Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The 80% rule

Years ago, I read in a magazine that there is no perfect time to have kids. If you are 80% sure you want them, go ahead because you won't get much closer to that 100%. At the time I thought that was a bit silly, but it turned out to be true. And I found myself applying that 80% rule to many other decisions in my life. While I might wonder how things could have turned out differently, I have not regretted any of the decisions I made. I'm not an impulsive person, I ponder quite a bit. But one can ponder forever and not accomplish anything...

I got married while in grad school and, as most relationships go, it wasn't really planned. It felt right enough for me to blurt out one day after dinner that I thought we should get married. The answer I got was 'OK, I'll call your bluff' and a beautiful ring that I wouldn't have done any better picking out myself. I wasn't bluffing, but I wasn't 100% sure either. I was anticipating a long engagement, because I wasn't sure I could take the time and plan the "big fat Brazilian wedding" I wanted. We ended up having 3 weddings, and by the end of the year my husband said he was done getting married, for life.

All that wedding stuff delayed my PhD defense for about 6 months, as I wasn't quite done. I realized later that I would never be. I could keep planning experiments my whole life. But one needs papers and I had to write things up. So I did, when I thought it was 80% there. Then I added the few extra experiments the reviewers suggested, and I still thought it was only 80%. I'm writing 2 papers now, and for both I have about 80% of the data. My contract has ended and I have only a few weeks before I move on. I wish I had an extra 6 months, but I'm sure I would think it was only 80% complete then too.

I believe I also used the 80% rule when picking my post docs. The labs seemed to be the right place for me to learn what I wanted. Were they my best choice? They could have been better, but I don't regret either of them. And both mentors were very understanding when I announced my pregnancies. I don't regret those at all, and the timing seems to have worked out well. I was told by a pregnant post doc during grad school that post docs were the best time to have kids. I took her advice, but I don't think there is a best time. I can feel the setback, but I don't think any other time would have been better. Either you want them or you don't. And if you do, just have them when you are 80% sure.


  1. This is an interesting concept, and as I look back, I think it's been true for me several times. I've never been 100% sure about any decision, although I've always tried to gather 'evidence' from several directions before making a choice.

    Sometimes, too, it's the gut feeling that puts me over the threshold.

  2. Nice post. Incidentally, I had one child during my Masters, and two during a PhD. As you say, never a best time, but if you want them, you just do it anyway.

    I like your 80% rule.

  3. I truly believe nothing in this life gets "done" or finished. Life is a process but we deny our very existence (which makes everything interesting) by focusing heavily on outcomes. We make ourselves machines. But I think we perform, and pretend that something is finished. That's what we need to do to be able to exist socially and financially.

    Hey! thanks so much for sending the book to me with your mama! that's very thoughtful. I love reading the essays so much that I will buy one...

  4. I just followed a link over from FSP, and clicked over to this post.

    The 80% rule is brilliant.

    I get asked a lot about when the "right" time to have kids is, and I always have to bite my tongue- the right time is simultaneously never and whenever you want them, I think. And hope you're so lucky to get to choose the when (I was, but many I know were not).