How to make a difficult decision

“We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.” –Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Today, while trying to make a difficult decision, I found Ruth Chang’s TED talk on the topic. More elegantly than I could, she came to the conclusion that hard decisions (and some easy decisions) are not a matter of one choice being greater than, less than, or equal to another choice. There is no way to determine an absolute value, no scale to balance between them, no time machine to see the consequences of the various decisions. Instead, there are merely choices and the ability to weigh them internally against what is important to you.

You risk drifting, she says, when you instead listen to the outside noises of what others think is important. There is an infinite amount of advice available by just entering a few words into a search engine, and sometimes it can be difficult to focus on your own internal compass when tons of people, all convinced that they are right, want to give you advice. You have to decide what is the core of who you are (a donut-eating, urban-dwelling artist, for example) and to make all of your choices based on that core.

So, while money may be the primary factor that drives another person’s decisions, it is not safe to assume that a job that offers more money is the best decision for you. There are a variety of factors that need to go into the decision. The standard of living you want, the hours, your outside interests are all important factors. While this doesn’t offer a neat solution to my own choice, it has helped me to pinpoint a few things on which to focus:

  1. Tune out the other voices. For a moment, consider who you are, what you value, what is important to you. Personally, I know that money will never be a big component of my happiness. Having a career with a big salary does not fit in with my INFP, dreamer personality type. I have spent so much time reading career advice and listening to advice from friends and family members that I have strayed away from the core of what is really important to me.
  1. Be realistic. I like Penelope Trunk’s advice because she is a great writer. She manages to be both practical and a good story-teller. And her life is full of drama that she doesn’t attempt to hide. Even on topics that don’t interest me, like homeschooling, I can usually find something to take away and use in my everyday life. For instance, you cannot be anything you want to be. Which is true. We all have limitations within our particular set of skills which we have to acknowledge when making any big decision.
  1. Take time to acknowledge that the decision is difficult, but that there has to be a choice in the end. I personally feel better before I make a decision, so I tend to prolong it as long as possible. Any excuse I can make, I will, procrastinating until the absolute last minute. The thing is, the extra time doesn’t help, and, if anything, it just delays the inevitable. It is perfectly fine to realize that you are lost, that the decision is difficult, but that shouldn’t be an excuse not to keep moving forward.

Making a difficult decision takes a lot of courage, strength, and soul-searching. It is not easy, but it is worth the time and effort that goes into the choice.