We make a lot of decisions every day, most of them are of little consequence. But when we get stuck on a big problem it can completely take over! Trying to work out how to tackle a really tricky problem, especially one that involves other people, can be paralysing.
The reason it is so tough is because, psychologically speaking, we want to avoid pain and discomfort wherever possible. At the start of a new year people are often considering their future. The holiday season so often raises the heart-stopping question: “What do I really want to be doing with my career?”
It can be really tough to face this question, especially if you had a hectic December, racing towards the finish line and only having deadlines and holidays on your mind. So if this question entered your thoughts (or perhaps it has now…) try this simple process:
Define the problem
What’s wrong in your career right now? Are you less advanced than you expected to be? Do you feel underpaid? Are you hitting roadblocks because of a lack of qualifications? Perhaps you love the people you work with but just aren’t feeling fulfilled. Whatever the problem, it takes some introspection to really capture what is causing you to consider greener pastures.
Make sure you look beyond the first few options that pop into your head. Speak to people that have known you for a long time, think outside the box. Even if an option doesn’t ‘sound like you’ it’s worth considering. It might just be that crazy idea that has you bouncing out of bed every morning.
In a career sense the options usually include: further study, looking for a new job, shifting from employed work to starting a business or changing industries. You need to remove all assumptions because it might be closing you off to an exciting new path. It’s also important to realise that making no change is actually an option.
“Every action has an equal and opposite reaction”, according to Newton, and this is true when taking pivots and making big decisions.
Work is no longer an isolated pocket of life; it permeates everything, so consider all the fallout. Will you need to accept a lower salary to change career? Will a change impact your family for the better? Or worse? Will a higher salary justify the longer hours required? What happens if you make a big change and then realise it wasn’t what it first appeared to be?
This is an exercise in moving beyond the excitement and anxiety of change and considering real world implications, both good and bad.
Isolate best options
Once you’ve looked at the potential cascade of events, with different options comes the tough bit – evaluating all the different possibilities and working out which is the best for you right now. This is the part that normally causes a fair degree of anguish, but once that decision is made with full consideration of all options and outcomes you will move forward with confidence.
Don’t leave your ideas in the ‘one day’ category. If you work through all of this and realise there is an opportunity for you to improve your life, or at least gain some life experience in trying something new, it will lead to regret if you don’t act on it.
You made a series of predictions earlier in the process when you considered outcomes. Make sure you test these assumptions. Give yourself a time frame to look at this and ask, “Was I right? Was this a good move? Is it turning out the way I expected, or is it better/worse?”
Without evaluation, we can let our fears or false assumptions become a lot more powerful. Use objective measures and time frames to be personally accountable for the decision you have made.
Breaking the decision-making process down in this manner takes a lot of the emotion out of it. The more important a decision is, the more likely we are to shut down to it in some capacity. Don’t defer to others to take away the responsibility. Sometimes stress takes over and we think less logically. Or, we think too pragmatically and forget to consider how a decision will make us feel.
Eve Ash has produced a hilarious video called Making Decisions about a boss who uses unethical methods make a decision about who gets fired.