Sunday, January 20, 2008

Deciding NOW for the Future?

Overachievers prefer knowing what the future will be like. In many cases, we have to make decisions today that will affect us down the road, without complete information. But something that I've always wondered is how can you make a decision now, based on your limited knowledge or experience, on something that may profoundly change your life? For example,
  • How do you know what you'll feel like in 5 years about your current significant other?
  • How do you know if you'll want kids 3, 5, or 10 years from now?
  • How do you know if you really want to be a doctor, lawyer, business owner, etc. ?
  • How do I know what it'll be like living in NYC, Silicon Valley, or the burbs of Chicago?
I had a bout with indecision a year and a half ago and it almost got the best of me. What career would be most fulfilling when I looked back on my life? Would the current relationship make me happy 10 years from now? How would moving to the suburbs of DC affect my life and would I be happy there?

Eventually, I figured that I had to make some decisions or I'd just end up going nowhere. For some of you dealing with similar decisions, here are my suggestions from having gone through it:
  1. Do some research online first (no more than 1 hr per week)
  2. Ask people who've experienced it first hand (ask people similar to you)
  3. Kick it around in your head for a bit (but not too long). Do some pros and cons, figure out the best and worst case scenarios, devise a plan B, and figure out what you'd be giving up by not doing X.
  4. Talk to friends and family about it. A personal coach would be great because they don't have a vested interest and can be more objective.
  5. Take some personal time to reflect - go for a hike alone, do a solo road trip, meditate/pray, etc. and go in with the intention of coming up with your next step.
  6. If you're still not sure, decide on a day to make a decision (whether it's "right" or "wrong").
With these types of future-thinking decisions, you'll never have complete knowledge; you can't expect to know the "right" answer ahead of time (as if there even is a "right" answer). Some people would say "let your heart decide", but I couldn't find myself in that camp. Like you, I'd prefer the crystal ball or at least a lot of rational thinking about my options.

The worst situation is being in limbo, endlessly treading water and never making a decision. That means that not only are you still undecided, but you're also frustrated with the fact that you can't seem to figure it out (which makes you even more anxious).

The good news is that, in most cases, another decision can always be made later if you find you're not happy (caution: this approach doesn't work for the question about having kids). If you make a decision now, you can always make another decision in a few weeks, months, or years.

Making a decision for the future is never easy, especially for those of us who like having everything in its place. It requires courage (which I used to think was only reserved for Odysseus and Beowulf) and a certain degree of faith that things will work out well. Check out my earlier post "Paralysis by Over-Analysis" about how too much analysis can undermine decision-making.
  • What are the decisions you're kicking around now that are tough to forecast in the future? Please comment and share what you're facing at the moment...
If you find you're spending too much time thinking about an issue and want to bounce it off a 3rd person or get an outsider's perspective, check out my coaching services at or send me an email at

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