An Earnest guide
to life’s biggest decisionschoosing a career path, renting or buying, going to grad school, life’s biggest decisionslife’s biggest decisions in this changing,
and often overwhelming, world.


Gian Gonzaga

Gian Gonzaga

Chief Data Officer at Earnest

“What will I eat for breakfast?” and “What will I do with my life?” seem like vastly different questions, but the ways in which we approach each decision have more in common than you think.

In the past 50 years, we’ve learned a lot about how the decision-making process works—from the information we consider and what we ignore to how we fill in the gaps.

For a long time, scientists thought humans were completely rational when it came to our choices (a concept called homo economicus). However, we know now that the decision-making process is much more complex.

The field called behavioral economics, which melds psychology and economics, has revealed that most of our choices are not, in fact, made through careful deliberation. Instead, our decisions—both big and small—are often guided by our emotions, our surroundings, and a host of subconscious mental “shortcuts.”

While some call these behaviors “irrational,” many of the ways we process decisions make perfect sense. Consider one of the biggest choices you’ll make: a lifelong partner. Being in love motivates behavior that seems irrational at first—hyper-focus on one individual, more money and time spent—but it can lead to many long-term emotional benefits such as social support, shared labour, and perhaps most importantly, the possibility of having and raising children.

Why does knowledge about how we make choices matter? So much of our long-term success depends on the decisions we make (and how we make them) in our 20s and 30s. Should we put money away in our 401(k) or blow it on a weekend trip to Vegas? Do we buy that fixer-upper or continue to rent? Do we stay on our current career path or try our hand at graduate school? The better we understand the emotions, motivations and subconscious behaviors behind these decisions, the better equipped we are to make the right ones.

Welcome to Earnest’s New-Fashioned Guide to Decision Making. Our team talked to experts, dug into the data, and heard from people in their 20s and 30s about how they make decisions, so you can use this knowledge to make smarter, better choices in life on your own terms.

Advice from Peers Who’ve Made a Big Decision

Eamon O’Connor

“I never like to stay on a track for the sake of staying on a track, and graduate school was no different.”

Ronnika Williams

“[My history professor] believed I would be the perfect fit for a graduate or doctoral program… I thought he was crazy at first, but every time we spoke he convinced me more.”

Austin Fadely

“I think graduate school is a great option for people that are willing to go out and 'sell' their degrees. In many fields, simply having a master's won't do anything.”

Amber Masters

“We felt at ease with the investment while we were in school, but now we definitely feel more of the stress of it with $600,000 of debt.”

Adrienne Dorison

“After landing a Fortune 500 job, it was the first time in my life that I felt like I had money, and I didn’t want to fork it all over to my $50,000 of student loans.”

Heather Taylor

“My motto is to go where the money takes you.”

Jenny Dorsey

“I wanted this perfect Facebook life. I didn't stop to think about what it really meant for my lifestyle and day-to-day living. I was internally miserable, but I felt trapped.”

Chris Mahan

“Today I realize that the only constant is change. When it comes to your career, change is good. Switching career paths has opened up so many new opportunities for me. It even inspired me to start my own software company.”

Bianca Jackson

“I negotiated twice: once for a $20,000 pay increase and another time for telecommuting privileges and more personal time off. Employees must remember there's more to negotiation than just salary.”

Brian Davis

"I do firmly believe in real estate as a way to build wealth, but not necessarily homeownership."

Kate Gilbert

"I used to think that owning a home was an investment that I had to have, it felt like security. But I feel differently now."

Tanner Callais

"We always knew we wanted to buy eventually, and then my wife and I were expecting our first kid, so it was the right time."