This article was published on the American Express OPEN Forum. The title you see here on this blog was rejected by them and replaced with “The Art of Decision Making.” I decided to retain the original. This has been updated slightly since the original post.
A recent Wall Street Journal article said that “for the first time since 2005, more than half of U.S. workers say they’re satisfied with their jobs.” It also goes on to say that people are happier because they are expecting less. Regardless, nearly 50% of workers are dissatisfied with their job.
Reading this reminded me of a conversation that surfaced during a Q&A section of a workshop of mine a while back. One of the attendees asked, “I work in a cubicle in a well-known technology firm and I am unhappy. How do I know if it is me or if it is my job? Do I need to change myself or change my job?”
I queried the audience to get their responses and the answers ranged from, “Stay at your job while you explore other options,” to “If you are really miserable, find another job quickly and quit this job,” to the most outspoken (and comedic) within the group, “Quit your job now! How could you work another day for the evil empire?”
After collecting the various responses, people looked anxiously to me for the “correct” answer.
My perspective was a bit different than the masses. My response was four words: “It doesn’t really matter.”
Very simply put, with the right mindset, any decision is the right decision. If you sincerely believe that the path you are on is the right one, then it is. Quitting your job doesn’t change things. You can switch jobs all you would like, but without the right attitude, it won’t make a bit of difference. Conversely you can alter your attitude and find new opportunities in staying where you are today, without ever changing jobs.
We often fail to make progress in life and in business because we postpone action until we feel as though we have the “right answer.” We painstakingly research all the facts, consider every angle and study each relevant detail. However, this quest for the “right answer” has us sitting on the fence in limbo, often without end.
Instead of answers, perhaps what we need are decisions.
Sadly, many of us suffer from a mild form of “decidophobia“—the fear of making decisions. No, I didn’t make up that work. It was coined by Princeton University philosopher Walter Kaufmann in his 1973 book, Without Guilt and Justice.
It is human nature to avoid putting ourselves into circumstances that we see as being risky, uncomfortable or scary. Therefore, we often decide to not decide. Many relate to decisions as having a “right or wrong” with an associated set of risks and rewards. By postponing decision-making, we mistakenly believe we are avoiding or minimizing the pain and risks of a wrong decision. However, indecision is a no man’s land with no direction, no progress and often more angst.
Without decision, there is no commitment. If you stay in a job yet do not commit to it, there is no way you can be satisfied. You will always be looking elsewhere. If you stay in a relationship but have one foot out the door all of the time, there is no hope for the future.
Should I change my job? Should I stay in my relationship? Should I buy a new house? What should I do with my life? These all seem like pretty big decisions. And for most people, they are.
We think “Oh, it’s so hard to make these big decisions,” when what’s really hard is the indecision.
In life there are no right or wrong decisions. There are only decisions. When we come to a fork in the road, we tend to overanalyze it. We might say, “I have an opportunity to create this new business venture BUT…” These are the considerations that have us stay upon the same path. Or how often do we choose a different path and then rethink our decision.
One of the reasons we worry so much and wonder whether we are on the right track is that we often see decisions as long term, semi-permanent decisions.
If you are driving your car and you get onto a highway where there are no exits for 300 miles, you had better be certain that you are on the right road. Making the right decision is critical when you don’t have any alternative paths on which to travel. Most people relate to their decisions like hopping onto a road five-years-long with no exits—one road, no options, lots of traffic and many potholes.
But what if you were on a beautiful winding country road where there are exits every mile, frequent intersections, and a rotary from time to time? What if you had many paths on which to travel, and from which to choose? Then making the right decision becomes less stressful, because you could always change direction. If you drove down a road like this, you would only have to plan up to the next fork in the road.
When faced with the opportunity to decide, your choice does not need to be a permanent one. If you find that this path is not to your liking, you can always choose another. Always move forward. Make decisions. Movement in any direction is better than stagnation or indecision. If you sit on the fence, all you will get are splinters.