Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The Art of Making Big Decisions

Image thanks to katie

It’s always around this time of year that many of us, particularly in the arena of academia, are mulling over some pretty tough choices. In fact, I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like I am being constantly bombarded with options, pathways, and opportunities that require a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ to confirm my fate. Often, it seems that there’s no going back once these decisions are made, and I’m not going to beat around the bush, this is tough. Heck, sometimes life is tough.

But decisions, when used wisely, are like the jangling keys to your future; they move you from door to door, experience to experience; they are progress. Decisions, despite their difficulty, are exciting; they are like registering at the grand department store of life and picking all the sparkling wares you want to see in your life one day. They are like Christmas crackers, and the sooner you pull them, the sooner you get the prize (or possibly the bad joke – but that’s all part of it).

Enjoy the Risk

A certain amount of risk is inevitable in life, but when making life-altering choices, risk is a frightening concept. However, committed, considered risk is far apart from spinning a roulette wheel and seeing where the ball drops. I don’t think there is anything risky about taking a chance on yourself, far from it; I actually think that not taking these chances to see yourself flourish, is the riskier option. I sure don’t want to place my bet on a ‘safe’ office job, or the equivalent.

History is littered with people who have made risky decisions that have led to success, whether that was a financial risk, a risk on their reputation, or the risk simply of being laughed back out the door... This is healthy; this is the thrill of the game. What gave these people the bravery to put themselves on the line is perhaps that they accepted, long before taking their respective plunges, that failure might actually be okay, and that it would be the regret of not trying that would be unbearable. Either that or they wouldn’t let failure be an option.

The long and short of it is: if you don’t truly believe in your ability to achieve, work on that first before you take any risk, because it is self-belief that will see you through. Making a decision half-heartedly is worse than not making the decision at all, because if you can’t give it your all you’re unlikely to get it.

Put Pen to Paper

When making decisions, if you are not committing a few things to paper then you are doing yourself a great injustice. Call me a geek (“You’re a geek”) but I often find myself writing miniature ‘Life Plans’ when a bulb of inspiration goes off about my future. I scribble dates, where I am, what my surroundings are like, details of the work I’m doing, the money I could be making... In short, as much detail as possible. I usually cover about one to two sides of A4 lined paper with this – but yours might be a brainstorm, bullet points, a few cryptic doodles on a post-it note... (okay, maybe not that last one).

And there you have it: one potential fate, staring you in the face. Is it pretty? Is it exciting? Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t, but it’s there. If I put mine aside and return to it in a few days or weeks, I try to examine how I feel: eager? Blissful? Or, maybe, disheartened?

This is truly invaluable. It’s like a transcript of a conversation with yourself; there in hard copy to review when in doubt. Writing pulls ideas out of the subconscious, I honestly believe it does; ideas and truths that you would struggle to access any other way. When you have access to your deepest, most authentic voice in this way, you might just find that, in true Disney movie style, your conscience can be your guide.

Is that it? Simples?

Perhaps not. What happens when you have to choose between two, three, four (or even more) potentially great paths? What if you’re over-inspired by life? That’s how I sometimes feel. In this case, decisions become limitations, and no one takes to that word kindly.

The fact is, if you’re a creative type, you have to reign yourself in sometimes, or you risk burnout. You must embrace that the more ideas you have, the more potential for a successful one, rather than seeing your dynamic creativity as a desperate commitment to see every single idea through. Success is the ability to see one fantastic idea in a hundred good ideas; to be exclusive about which choices to channel your creative energies into, because you only have so much to go around.

And even if you do find, down the line, that maybe you made the wrong decision...

A Decision is Not Necessarily a Conclusion

Life is not a one way street: right turns, left turns, U-turns, and just parking up for a while are all accepted in the highway code of existence. You may come under criticism, but, ultimately, no one’s going to tow you off the road.

Think about it, and then decide.

Are you struggling with how to make big decisions? Is there one major decision in particular that is haunting you? Have you taken risks in the past with the choices you've made? Tell us your stories!


Greta said...

All of this is so immensely true, Megan. I often find that I get so many options in life that it's hard to pick just one, but when I go with my instinct, it often turns out to be the right choice after all. I think it's all about risking, like you say, and if it doesn't work, then you just have to try again.
(P.S. I was just wondering - will there be more Learn to Love podcasts? I miss them! <3)

Destiny said...

My boyfriend and I have been planning, for five years, to move to NYC. We set June 2011 about a year ago as our planned moving date. I'm suddenly becoming very attached the area that we live in and the people in it. I love my new job here and (unfortunately) I teach kids, so I'm getting INCREDIBLY attached to them. All I can see is this big, sad day in future (that used to be my one exciting day in the future). I want to go through with it, but I know I'll never be able to have this specific type of teaching job up in NYC and now that I finally have it I don't want to let it go. Very confused.

Molly said...

My entire life has been a series of risks, but they have always turned out for the best. I wouldn't want to live any other way.

Euforilla said...

This is a good advice!
Thank you!

Megan said...

Greta - Yes I am working on the next L2L podcast right now! :)

Destiny - I always feel like the last months moving up to a big change are the hardest, it is when you really start to sense the reality of the decision. However, if it's something you've wanted for a long time you have to look at the bigger picture.

Lolo said...

This is a great article and all very true!
I've had a lot of upheaval in my life recently but I'm trying to use it as a jumping off point to plan my future and make some radical changes. Some of them will take longer than others and things may change but I haven't felt this excited about my future in a long while.
Although it is slightly scary!!

Miriam Berger said...

Thank you for this article. It was exactly what I needed. I feel that I've always been a risk taker in life. I've always felt comfortable seizing opportunity - until a year or so ago. I had a big change in my personal life and it really makes me nervous to make a big decision in front of me now. I'm only 32 but I guess at an age where I struggle between wanting to take a risk & settling down and finding a partner (again) and thinking of having a family. However my gut tells me that I may not get that where I am and that this risk could lead me to it. Do we get less riskier as we get older and have various life experiences throw us for a loop?
Love to hear from any of you - Miriam

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