Making Hard Decisions

Have you ever had to make what felt like an impossible decision? The kind where you can literally feel yourself at the crossroads of what will be and what could have been?

I am chronically indecisive, so I would consider myself an expert in this category. I don’t know where it came from, but since I was young I have had an existential fear of regret. More than anything else, this fear drives me. Could this time have been better spent? Was I meant to be living somewhere else? Meeting other people? On a different career path? 

Sometimes, it feels like each day is a revolving door. Openings coming and going, never returning in the same way. 

Decisions made, chances taken. 

Win. 

Lose. 

Repeat.

There is no shortage of literature on making big decisions. Suggestions range from meditation, to therapy, to the ever-helpful “listen to your gut.” I hate that saying. What is a “gut?” If I don’t already know, then clearly, I don’t have one. I have also found that no single podcast, Ted Talk, or book can take its place (although I highly recommend those linked here.)

Instead, I have learned that most decisions can be made effectively by asking two questions:

1// Is it an “either/or” or a “both/and”?

Naturally, some of the best advice I’ve received on decision-making came from my hair dresser:

“People are so multifaceted, and we often assume that this must lead to inner divisiveness. Yet in reality we are born to combine our interests to become our whole selves.”

A decision becomes totally different when you look at it in this way. Maybe our decisions don’t always have to be “either/or.” Maybe, we can allow more room for “both/and”. Maybe it’s not deciding between, but deciding how. 

I understand that some decisions aren’t like this. You can’t half-quit a job. You can’t half-move. And you certainly can’t half-start a family. But what you can do is reflect on which parts of each option speak to you, and determine how to create a step forward that brings as many of those pieces to the table as possible. 

For example, you might decide to change your career, yet still bring to your next role the aspects of your old job that drew you there in the first place. You might decide to move, but select a place that allows you to keep certain qualities of your old home you valued. 

Oftentimes, decisions feel bigger than they need to be because we forget to allow for nuance. Embrace the gray area and you may find there are many more outcomes than you originally thought.

2// What do you keep coming back to?

In almost every case, one option is the complicating factor; it presents a change. 

What I have come to realize is that if an opportunity for a change presents itself (e.g. a new job, living situation, family structure) and you continue to return to the possibility, then that in itself is the answer. The option you continually return to is an indicator of which “what if” you won’t be able to live with.

This does not mean you must be totally at peace with your decision. In fact, understanding you will not is perhaps the most important permission to give yourself. There is no perfect choice; all we can do is take the next small step in the right direction. Make the best choice you can given the circumstances, then submit to the process and keep moving. There is power in surrender.

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