We all want to make smart decisions. And you can, by living in the tension.
Now I’m not talking about the daily decisions like eating a sandwich or salad (get the half and half, of course), or to like a photo on Instagram or not.
Let’s talk about big decisions, like looking for a new job or not, marrying this person or not, moving to a new city or not, breaking up with that person or not.
Those decisions are hard, and scary.
Because they can really change how you live, you take them seriously. You don’t want to derail your life and become a trainwreck.
But instead of trying to figure out what is the best way forward, it’s so tempting to do nothing. You decide not to make a decision. You keep on dating that person that you’re not so sure about, stay at a job that just doesn’t quite seem to be the best fit, keep doing what you’ve been doing even though you hate it.
But that is a decision. Indecision is a decision.
So you might be asking, What should I do instead? Good question.
Everyone has their practices for making decisions: prayer, meditation, journaling, walking, fighting, driving, etc. I won’t tell you which method is best. Everyone has their own style, gait, way. You do what feels right there. But I will tell you this.
To make smart decisions, you need to sit in the tension.
That means sitting in the push and pull of the possibilities, the pros and cons, the uncertainty. You have to straddle the choices and hope nothing jumps up and smacks you in the groin. And you have to stay there.
The only issue is that we hate living like that. All of us want certainty. Everything in us craves it like a stray dog slobbers after food. So we end up making stupid decisions because we want to rid ourselves of the pain of not knowing.
To do that, many of you do the opposite of indecision: You make a rash choice because sitting in the tension sucks. It’s so tense. To make the unknown known as quickly as you can, you just decide even before you really know what you’re doing.
You get engaged even though you see enough red flags to make you feel like you’re walking around Beijing, take that job even though the new manager seems like an ass, move to a city even if you’re not confident it’s the best place for you.
One of the primary mindsets that causes you to decide too quickly is that many of you idealize what something can be, telling yourselves that such and such will work out. So you jump in. But the truth is that things often don’t work out. Marriages break up fifty percent of the time, more people than not hate their jobs, and a lot of people live with regret.
Instead of being idealistic, some of us can demonize an option, not because anything is really that wrong with it. You just think that nothing works out, so why should this be any different. You tend to be a glass half broke type of person. So you turn down anything that comes your way, thinking of all of the negative things that could happen to you. But you’re likely being overly pessimistic, because things rarely go as badly as we think they could. (As much as we think the zombie apocalypse will happen, it probably won’t.)
Regardless if you’re overly optimistic or pessimistic, making rash decisions isn’t a good decision-making process. It’s gambling.
Sure, you can make a quick decision, and sometimes that works well. Life does require assessing risk and taking risks, but it shouldn’t be treated like a roulette table, where we put all of our chips on red just because it feels right. You can get lucky, but that doesn’t mean your decision-making process is good. That doesn’t mean you will consistently make a great decision.
To do that, besides straddling the options, hoping that nothing bops you in the private parts, you need to search for the truth.
To know the facts about the options before you is key. But to do that, you need to do the work. You have to pick up a shovel and start digging. Ask the hard questions to those around you that are relevant to your decision. If you’re looking at a job, look at Glassdoor and read the reviews, talk to people in your network and ask them what it’s really like to work at that company—keep digging.
If you’re thinking about getting engaged but you have your doubts, you need to look at them. Be honest with yourself. When it comes to love, we tend to have rosy glasses on. We do that because we want to spare ourselves and the other person the truth that you shouldn’t be together (knowing that is terribly inconvenient). But you’re afraid of being lonely, so you just wander into an engagement that is convenient but genuinely uncomfortable. It sucks, really. Don’t do that. Shoveling past the smelly crap you are telling yourself will force you to see that you both would be miserable if you take one more step forward in your relationship. And you will likely do the one thing you know needs doing: Breaking up.
Shoveling to find the truth is hard work. It’s painful. You get blisters when you dig long enough. But there’s gold in them hills.
You can also get callouses and feel tempted to dig forever. That’s just going back to indecision.
To mitigate against that, create a deadline. Sometimes one is given to you by a potential employer in an offer letter, or something like that. But when it’s not, make your own. Mark it in your calendar. Tell yourself that you will decide by the time you set.
Of course, make sure you have enough time to dig below your dung pile. That layer can be quite thick sometimes, you know. We can tell ourselves a lot of lies. So give yourself the time to find the truth. And then you need more space to pray, meditate, journal, walk, fight, drive, or whatever you do to make your decisions. So account for that.
While you are deliberating, know that you can’t make a perfect decision. That does not exist. Remember that you are blessed to even have such choices before you. But if you practice sitting in the tension and digging for the truth, you will have a better chance of making a great decision than a poor one.
And you won’t find your life derailed from your decisions. In fact, you’ll realize you’re not even on a train. You’re not a passenger.
You’re an explorer. You’re in a forest. And you’re blazing your own path.
So decide the best way forward for your life.
Then go onward. Life is an adventure.