When confronted with multiple options, everyone has a different method for figuring out which is best. Some make pros and cons lists, others have a brainstorm with friends and family. Some leave it purely to fate. Whatever your method, it’s important to remember that every decision, big or small, is important.
Big decisions, like where to go to college, might determine your future career and where you live. Smaller choices, like deciding to play hooky from work to read in a café, have led to people finding their future spouse. While certain choices can turn out to be essentially arbitrary, some set us on a path that can be almost impossible to abandon. So there may be some pressure behind your next decision, but don’t melt down like a Dali clock just yet. There are a few questions to ask yourself before diving headfirst into your solution.
Is It True to Yourself, Not What Others Expect of You?
Holding yourself up to the expectations of others is a form of self-abuse, and there are few things sadder than seeing someone make their decisions based on what others want. While it may not always work out for you to be a musician or an author or an athlete or whatever it is you’re truly passionate about, giving it up merely because you’re told it’s unrealistic or because your parents would have put “Dr.” on your birth certificate if they’d had the choice isn’t fair to yourself. I’m scared to say “you only live once” because of how ridiculous it sounds, but seriously, Drake knows what he’s talking about.
It’s not just for big career decisions either. From what to have for dinner to what to wear, it’s ultimately your call. Now this isn’t necessarily a license to shout “YOLO” and order a Big Mac for dinner two weeks straight or to wear that ridiculous tuxedo shirt from your senior prom to work tomorrow. But you do need to realize that every choice you make is important and every choice you make is yours. Good outcome or bad outcome it’s going to be you that pays the price or reaps the rewards so take advice when you want it, but realize the power you have over your own life. Live the life you want, not the life others want for you.
Will It Take You From Your Friends?
There are times that you should be on your own, that you should flaunt your independence and your (partial) ability to find an apartment on your own and cook actual meals for yourself and do all that big kid stuff. But when you’re making decisions about where to work or study or take a long vacation, think about how it will affect your relationships — otherwise friendships can wane and loneliness can set in.
Now you’re likely thinking, that’s silly, Cody, I’m not some sociopath who will never be able to make new friends if I move around often. True, true, but here’s the thing: whether you’re jet setting for pleasure or constantly moving for work and school, you’re right that you’ll make new friends with a little effort. But after a while these super short-term relationships can become superficial, mere boredom busters without any of the depth that makes friendships worthwhile in the first place. It may sound cool to be able to hit up your “London/Hong Kong/New York/Duluth, Georgia/Spokane, Washington/Wherever friends” while you’re dropping in for a few months, but then you have to leave them too and make new ones. And, after a while, friendships can become more of a game than a genuine feeling. Trust me when I say you’ll pine for those late-night talks with your former best friend — and neither Skype nor a carousel of new acquaintances can replicate them.
Is It Making Anyone Happier? Who?
This question may seem unnecessarily hedonistic, but hear me out. Of course there are other factors to consider when making a decision, but if it’s not bettering someone’s life (whether it’s yours or not) then there may be a problem. For example, maybe you’re deciding between buying a new shirt and donating to charity? On the surface it sounds like a question of, Should I make myself happy or make someone else happy?, which, to me, is totally fair. Dig a little deeper though and ask yourself, Will this shirt actually make me happy? Or this car or this cupcake or this fill-in-the-blank? If yes, then by all means go for it. Your own happiness is extremely important. But perhaps it’s not so simple. Give it some thought.
What Was Your First Thought?
What was your gut reaction? What popped into your head within two seconds of thinking about your options? That first instinct isn’t always what you should go with, but it should provide the baseline for your future thinking. Compare other possibilities to your initial reaction. Oftentimes, it’s right on target. But sometimes misinformation or stereotypes can get in the way. Sometimes, the biggest obstacle to good decision-making is you.
Is Your Decision a Non-Decision?
I see a lot of guys in nice suits sitting on the Lexington Ave. subway headed down to the Financial District. They poke away at their iPhones, distracting their conscience with Temple Run or Angry Birds. Their trip downtown each day is a sort of non-decision decision – a decision to go through the motions and not think about what they’re doing. At one time each of these people made the decision that this is the type of life they wanted. And it’s tough to blame them. There are certainly a lot of benefits to a career in finance, and the more math-y among us surely enjoy it at least a little. But, based on conversations I’ve had, it seems that there’s been very little reflection on whether it’s what they really want to do and whether they still enjoy it. This, by no means, applies only to those in finance.
It’s a crippling thought to realize just how much power we have over own life, and often we respond to this by simply not making decision. We go through the motions, too afraid to really reflect on what we’ve done and what we want to do. Yet the only way we’ll be who we really want to be is through constant reflection.
If we actively think about and choose what we do, we’re ultimately choosing who we are. Whether we’re accepting a job we’re not so keen on or scrolling through Yelp! to decide on a coffee shop to read at, we’re actively crafting our identity. In the end, it’s your call. I suppose it’s something to think about.