The Mess of Life Changing Decisions
By amazing anonymous
“So what do you do?” “What’s next?” “What are your plans after school/ uni/ this job…?” We have all been there. When the prospect of a social event fills you with dread, anticipating the same tired questions. As if you have to justify why you have not mapped out your entire lifespan already. That tight feeling starts to grip your stomach as you see yourself falling behind the ranks of other bright young things marching confidently into the future with a swing in their step. Resist the pressure these well-meaning social interrogators are pushing on to you. They are usually thinking more about their own life than yours or just trying to making polite conversation. To my disgust, I even caught myself doing it recently (and choked into my wine glass).
The truth is, decision-making fills many of us with dread. I remember lying awake for long hours at night thinking of how I was going to fill my gap-year; of what it would look like on my C.V.; of what friends, family, future employers would think of me; of what I could be missing out on. Yes, it is true, the decisions you make shape your life. Who your friends are, what you do, who you know, where you live, whether you go to that late event on a work night… There is huge pressure on each of us to make decisions and to make them earlier and earlier in childhood, apparently with lasting implications. The opportunities are seemingly limitless and therefore the likelihood of making the wrong decision all the greater.
If you, like me, are you in your twenties, then right now you are probably facing an obstacle course of crossroads, opportunities and decisions that you need to take. Probably even several at the same time. Various aunts and uncles have cheerfully told me how much they hated being in their twenties. A decade of head pummelling whilst you ride white-knuckled on rollercoaster after rollercoaster. You get hurt, hurt people, get bitterly disappointed, have doors slammed in your face whilst others fly open and it is all a bit intense (and still somehow fun!). Before you curl up in the foetal position, clutching a tub of Ben and Jerries’, take a deep breath, exhale and realise that not all is lost! The good news, so they tell me, is that this stage only lasts until you find your particular groove in life, after which you get on with it, stick with it and life is much simpler. Do-able? In the meantime, we can give ourselves a hand with all this decision-making by making sure we keep in good shape for it.
That is because good decision-making is more about an attitude, a way of being rather than a TV quiz show with right or wrong answers. The focus should be on you, the decision maker rather than on the decisions themselves. I urge you not to spend hours at night over-analysing your options from every angle and playing out possible outcomes. I have been there so many times. You wake up exhausted and even coffee cannot save you. If you are in good shape yourself, then you will be in the right place, with the capacity for making good decisions as and when opportunities inevitably come along. It is a bit like keeping fit so that when the marathon (or dance off) comes up, you can go for it.
Decision-making flows from you, from where you are at when making the decision. It is not separate from the rest of your life. This means that your support network, your physical, emotional and mental health will all have an impact, so ensure you are maintaining good health and balance in these areas. At the same time, beware the trap of holding off all decision-making until you are feeling ‘ready’. You never are to be honest; you just get on and make them when they come up. As the old saying goes, moderation in all things – including asking others for advice. So please do not lose your individual opinion and capability by involving the whole sorority in your decision-making. Whilst fond of sharing, I avoid telling too many people about big decisions coming up, and only have about five key people whose opinion I really take on-board. Make that three people….At the end of the day you have to decide for yourself and to be at peace with your decision. If you decide based on the opinion of others, then it will come back to bite you.
This leads to the next decision-making 101 – and this is uncomfortable. Ask yourself, am I deciding from a place of freedom? As recently as this summer, I decided to give up my job, friends, family and country, essentially life as I knew it, to go abroad for a year with a friend. My friend had a concrete reason to go. I thought I did, but then realised it was her path, not mine. I was caught up in the excitement, in wanting to go with her, in a desire to escape my current life. Sometimes we can choose someone else’s pathway, especially when you care deeply about them. One of the things I found helpful in making my decision was a YouTube video by Fr Mike Schmitz who recommended asking yourself, ‘What would the freest version of me do?” You can tell this by looking at the fruits. Does this give me peace? Because that is the giveaway sign of living in freedom. I had been feeling restless and uncomfortable as the proposed departure date crept closer for us to leave England. This was when I realised that my decision-making was operating on shaky foundations, like the desire to please others and therefore was not free. These kind of questions are not nice but sometimes we have to grit our teeth and face ourselves and this takes time.
Time is one of the greatest luxuries of our so-called ‘developed world’ and we deal it out like misers, especially when it comes to spending it on ourselves without a concrete result. Rebel! Create the space for decision-making and allow yourself the time. I took a week off in the autumn and restrained myself from filling it with activities and people. Instead, I went for long walks in the countryside, spent the afternoons writing and then spent time with my grandma and one of my oldest friends who both know my weaknesses and what my life should look like. Thanks to this week off, I had time to recover my balance away from the whirl of work, life and London, to perk up thanks to a potent combo of fresh air, good food, laughter and daylight and spend time with people who really know and love me. The big decision I had to make then naturally rolled itself out like a red carpet over the course of the week, and by Saturday evening, I had made a complete turn around and arrived at a place of peace with my decision.
Even if you have taken the time out and ensured you are in good health for decision-making, it is not always clear and in this case you have to take a step forward, even if turns out to be in the wrong direction! This is scary but you will learn something positive from the experience. Nothing is wasted. Even unsuccessful relationships are not all bad, if you step back and reflect on why it did not work out, what your non-negotiables and priorities are and what should trigger the warning lights. Making any decision will also start the ball rolling. Things start to happen. The worst position to be in is when we freeze. I saw this on the London Catholic dating scene (or lack thereof). People would want to find the right person so badly, but they would rarely take the risk of rejection or give that sweet guy/girl a chance by going on a date. As if going on a date was as binding as an engagement ring! Risk is good. Step out of your comfort zone because it can grow stagnant and we need to keep open and growing.
Practise decision-making in the small things to keep you in shape for when the big decisions come along. Do not underestimate the small decisions – they can have greater impact than you realise. It is a bit like the maxim that if you look after the pennies, the pounds take care of themselves. Another benefit is this saves you from living in limbo, waiting on your ‘big break’. This is a very real danger of fixating on what we are going to do, what we want and of living in the future. I remember actually saying to one guy when we broke up (over the phone, nasty), “But I had such a beautiful future mapped out for us!” My vision for our future was so beautiful that I was willing to overlook warning signs in how the relationship was in the present, in order to get that dream. You will be delighted to hear that this is unhealthy and unhelpful. If you do live in the future, you will most likely grow discontented and bitter, prone to navel-gaze, become boring to be around and ironically start to miss out. That is because life is being lived right here and now, in the present. We are making our futures right here and now. You are not in limbo, this time is full of potential. Time to root yourself, to find your character, your core values, who your true friends are, what your weaknesses are, how you react in given situations and practise key inter-personal skills. Building up who you are, so that what you do then comes about naturally from that. Are we making the most of this time?