I recently received an email from an acquaintance asking me questions about a business transaction he was offered. He sounded like he had a lot of doubts and wanted to hear my experience before making a decision. I wrote him a reply and saw that—days later—he asked similar questions of others on a public forum. It made me wonder if what he was in fact doing was gathering information or gathering opinions to help him make his decision. In the end, he made a decision that was congruent with his initial doubts, which made me wonder yet again, if what he was in fact doing was canvassing social assurance for a decision he had already made rather than gathering information to help him make it.
One question begged to be asked—how can someone make important decisions about his or her life based on other people’s differing beliefs, values, goals and skill sets? Don’t get me wrong, I have done so myself when faced with some important decisions. I have asked those I know and trust what their views were. In the end, I make my choices based on what is right for me—based on my own values, beliefs, goals, skills and experience, not based on public opinions because at the end of the day, I am the one who has to live with my choices, not them.
Here’s the thing about advice—it’s subjective.
Most people have only good intentions when they are dishing out advice. They want to protect you from making a mistake or doing something you will regret. But here is what many people fail to recognise—the only person who gets to decide if something is a mistake is the person who has to live with the choice. In the parents’ eyes, their 18-year old daughter keeping her baby from an accidental pregnancy might be a mistake but perhaps to the 18-year old daughter, keeping her baby is a blessing to her life. Maybe for the first time in her life, she has the motivation to be resourceful and responsible. Who’s to say that’s a bad thing? The facts of the matter remain the same but the opinions about whether or not a decision is a mistake are different. It’s all about perspective.
I once asked a woman I know for advice about dating and relationships. I had been on a string of unsuccessful dates and it was beginning to wear me out. She told me that I have to play the game by the rules, that men only like women who are bitchy and mean to them, they are especially not attracted to women who are nice or funny. When I heard those words coming out of her mouth, I couldn’t be more appalled if I tried. She made a generalisation of the entire male population’s preference based on a small sample of other people’s observations and her limited dating experience, and she thought she was passing on sound advice.
“Treat them mean, keep them keen,” she said of the old adage.
I don’t know what appalled me more—the fact that she accepted that idea as gospel or the fact that it is acceptable to treat other people badly in order to sustain their attraction. Perhaps I have an idealist’s view of the world. In my world, no self-respecting individual would be in a relationship with someone who is mean to them. I told her blankly that I would rather not be in a relationship than have to be bitchy and mean to someone just to keep them interested. Not only does it go against my values as a human being, it also signals an unhealthy and dysfunctional attitude towards relationships with other people.
The thing about decisions is that just because you made the same decision as someone else doesn’t mean you will end up with the same outcome. There are no guarantees in life. Just because a predecessor has gone down that path doesn’t mean the scenery would be the same for the next person on the trail simply because they are two different people with different viewpoints, values, beliefs, experiences and knowledge. There are also many variables in life that are not within our control. Conditions can—and do—change—in economics, in technology, in the legal climate and in social conditions. At the end of the day, the decision you make has to be one that is right for you.
How do you know if a decision is right for you?
You try it on for size:
- Imagine each possible outcome and assess how it feels for you. Imagine the best case scenario and the worst case scenario. Plan for contingencies if the worst is to happen. If you are comfortable with the worst case scenario then it’s probably the right one.
- Ask yourself if it would take you closer to your goal or further away from it. Sometimes the choices that are easy may not take us to where we want to go and the ones that will are not easy ones to make so it’s important to ask yourself what you are willing to commit and where you must draw the line, remembering that you are always free to make a different choice further down the track.
My favourite test is always the ‘looking-back’ test. I imagine myself five, ten years from now, thinking back to this moment. I ask my future self which choice I would regret and which ones I wouldn’t. Even though I may have my fears around the uncertainty of my decision, the thought of a future regret is what ultimately seals the deal for me. Fear, I can live with. Regret, I cannot.
How do you make important decisions in your life? What are some rules or tests you use to determine which ones are the right ones for you? Share them with me at the end of this post, I would love to hear them.