Look at the picture above. This is where I grew exponentially in mind, body, and spirit. Years ago, when I lived in West Virginia, I was faced with some of the toughest decisions of my life. In the morning, at dawn, I loved to go for a long run along the Monongahela River out in the country. My only company was the wisps of fog rising off the water, and the deer feeding in the meadows. As the miles went by, the crunch of the pea gravel under my feet, the rhythm of my breathing calming my soul, I was able to tackle some issues I was working on head-on. Life was always better after a long run. Even to this day, when I look at the picture above, I get a smile on my face as I get taken back in time to that muddy, sleepy West Virginia river. I will be forever grateful for that period of my life.
Recently, it has come to pass that many of my friends have been struggling with tough decisions in their lives. I was struggling with a tough decision last month. Whether coincidence or fate, and instead of a trip report and some pictures, I took that as sign to write this blog post. Here are 5 insights I have had in my life when I had to make a tough decision. This blog post is not addressed to anyone in particular and only comes from a place of truly wanting to help people, if it helps anyone at all.
It is very difficult to silence the noise and negative thoughts in your mind if you do not get quiet. And if you do not silence the chatter in your head, the noise and negative thoughts, chances are you could make a poor decision based on fictitious feelings rather than facts. In these instances, rest. Take a deep breath. Let your mind be still. Find a special place, a place of subterfuge, where you can do this. For me, this place is in the outdoors with no one else around.
2. Live your values
I was very fortunate to have met a great mentor and man a few years ago who taught me this powerful lesson. To be sure, I am neither psychologist nor philosopher, but to me, simply put, your values constitute what you place relative importance in and form a personal code of conduct for your life. As defining morals and ethics, they make up the core substance of your character. Values are different than goals. For example, saying you want to be a teacher someday is a goal; saying you place importance on helping others is a value. If you are struggling with a decision, err on the side of selecting the option that is most consistent with your values. This is true even if you face overwhelming opposition or so-called “irrefutable” evidence to the contrary. You will rarely be led astray.
3. Live in the moment
It is important to make a decision that reflects where you are at in your life right now and the direction that you want your life to go. Certainly, it prudent and common sense to look ahead a few steps. But what is the point of projecting out years into the future when we barely know what tomorrow will bring? Worry is the killer of dreams. It is a largely pointless projection of fear and anxiety into the unknown future, a future over which we have no control. Make plans, set the course of your journey, and then be prepared to adapt over and over again.
4. Keep it in perspective
It is easy to become locked in indecisiveness when a decision you are making becomes 10-times larger than what it is. But the reason making a decision becomes so overwhelming is that we often forget that life gives us another chance and then we get stuck in paralysis by over-analysis. Once we stand back, gain this perspective, forget about having certainty, and embrace hope, what was once overwhelming now is reduced to the ordinary.
In life, I have failed again and again at many things. For example, being in the field of academics, much of what I try to do in teaching, and especially research, fails. Fortunately, I am very tenacious and don’t personalize these failures. I just recognize they are taking me one step closer to what I want or where I need to be and I just do my best with my next opportunity. People fail all the time on many different accounts: bankruptcy, divorce, jail, speeding tickets, telling off your boss, burning dinner, etc. Whatever your failures are, always remember that a failure only leads to a mistake if you do not use the experience of the failure to grow and evolve.
5. Realize it’s your life
This one is particularly important for me because it was a hard lesson I had to learn when I was young. When faced with a tough decision, many people live their lives based on the expectations of others never realizing or ignoring that they always have a choice and making that choice is 100% their responsibility. Of course, it is wise to gather the advice of close confidants when we are forming the jigsaw puzzle that will ultimately be our final decision. However, at the end of the day, it’s your life and you must turn down the roar of the crowd and turn up the small voice in your heart. You can love your family. You can love your friends. You can love your culture. You can love your country. However, at the end of the day, it is your life to live and you are 100% responsible for the pursuit of your own happiness, the wellspring of love from which your contribution to the planet will flow.
So there you have my pearl of wisdom. When faced with a tough decision, relax and keep things in perspective. Staying in the present moment, drill down to your values and lean on those. Then, make your decision with 100% ownership, with no regrets.