“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
As Student Affairs professionals, we are often faced with some tough personal and professional decisions. In my career, I have had to decide whether to pick up part-time teaching work, when was the best time to start my family, would I consider relocating for career advancement, was I ready to get my PhD, should I accept a time-consuming volunteer role, and should I take on my family’s business. I firmly believe we cannot be satisfied with someone else’s answer to these tough questions – we must make these decisions on our own.
Friends and family can offer advice, but the best thing they can do is ask you the right questions. A big decision can feel…well, BIG. But like a big goal, it can be more easily achieved by breaking it down into smaller pieces.
Here are 5 questions that can help to make tough decisions:
1. What would you do if you couldn’t fail?
Fear of failure often keeps us paralyzed. It prevents us from maximizing our full potential and fully exercising our strengths. When I was considering a Ph.D. program, the fear of failure was my biggest limitation. I have come to accept and embrace failure as an essential part of learning. Often our failures are not as irreversible or detrimental as we make them out to be in our minds.
“Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.” – Tony Robbins
2. How does this decision fit into your greater purpose?
Indecisiveness or resistance to making a decision can often be rooted in an underlying value or belief. When a choice seems logical and clear, yet we are still resistant, there may be some deeper inner conflict going on. When my mom approached me about being more involved in our family business, I wanted to honor her and was attracted to the earning potential of a career in real estate; however, real estate was not my calling. There were aspects that I would have enjoyed, and I could probably have been successful, but my passion is working in education with students.
“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” – Steve Jobs
3. Is this the right time?
Some decisions seem crystal clear, except for the timing. One of my toughest decisions was declining the invitation to be the volunteer coordinator for my friend’s mayoral campaign. I wanted to do it, it felt aligned with my greater purpose, and it was a great match for my skill set, but the timing was terrible. I was a full-time working mom, struggling in my relationship, and had several other commitments. On the other hand, there isn’t always a perfect time. Timing is an important factor, but it’s not the only factor. When an opportunity arises, you may not feel fully prepared but it may be the time to take a risk.
“You can do anything but not everything.” – David Allen
4. How will you feel after you have made this decision?
Visualizing the outcome of the two or more scenarios when trying to make a decision can help us tap into our “gut” reaction. The power of intuition is discussed in a lot of decision-making research, including Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. According to Gladwell, the more expertise you have on a topic, the more likely your gut will predict the most accurate outcome.
“There will be a few times in your life when all your instincts will tell you to do something, something that defies logic, upsets your plans, and may seem crazy to others. When that happens, you do it.” – Judith McNaught
5. What role does your ego play in this decision?
Fear, anxiety, expectation, regret, guilt, and anger are the manifestations of the ego. Ego causes us to compare ourselves to others. Ego takes everything personally. It wants to be right. It needs to feel superior. And, it can lead us to make poor decisions. When we make a decision because we want what someone else has, or we think something will make us happy, the ego is in control.
“You create a good future by creating a good present.” – Eckhart Tolle