My mind is burning, like I doused it with Habanero juice. A self-inflicted hamster wheel of point/counterpoint, a precursor to decision. Doubt, fear, second-guessing all a smokescreen designed to keep me in comfort. And comfort is the last thing I need.
Some decisions happen at you; do I jump out the window or run through the fire? Do I fight the invading force or surrender? Some, and to me the most interesting, aren’t “necessary”, they can be avoided and some might congratulate you for not making the decision. These are the “who I am” decisions – commitments to new careers, new relationships, new surroundings, new priorities. They can be the hardest because, depending on how you look at it, they’re “optional”.
I talk a good game about decision making, but haven’t made a significant one in a couple of years – so I made one. I’m writing this journal as a way of tracking my psychology (hopefully it communicates to you too) around making (or avoiding) major decisions. I’m in the thick of one right now, and noticed some patterns I’d like to put the kibosh on in future (or simply manage better).
Anatomy of a Decision
Realization – you need to know something needs to change, for me the red flag is when I get ambiguous feelings like “I’m not happy” or “something’s not right”. Another classic is I’ll eat more while becoming more sedentary. Whatever the trigger is it probably won’t jump up and slap you in the face, you have to dig deeper to find something actionable.
Inner Spelunking – realizing something’s got to change is different from knowing what needs to change. You’ve got to explore, like Plato’s Cave, and if you’re living a reasonably comfortable life that exploration can ramp up anxiety – you need to be cool with the idea that everything is on the table – nothing’s “out of bounds”. When I went digging around my subconscious I found that my current employment, while financially enriching, was taking more than it gave. And this energy suck was infecting my “real” life – change was needed.
Preparation – Leaving a job (like leaving a marriage, or a religion) has a lot of implications, you need to be clear on what the impact will be. Then you need to comfortable with taking full responsibility for the upside or fallout. Owning all eventualities gives you power, when you’re the final authority in your mind, that’s when you can make decisions. Immature preparation can lead to all kinds of flailing resulting from second guessing and weak boundaries around your decision – if you’re not in danger, sacrifice immediate gratification and plan your actions.
Decision vs. Decisiveness – you can make a decision and not take action, I’ve done this (I had a girlfriend once I “decided” to break up but didn’t take action for months – this is what I call a “non-decision decision”) – it’s the root of madness. So, for shorthand, decision + action = decisiveness. Once you know what you need to do – do it, take action. Once I decided to separate from my employer, I immediately wrote my resignation letter. Being a stickler for protocol I wasn’t able to deliver it in person till four days later – four days of non-decision decision which felt like hell – once delivered, I had been decisive and the two feelings couldn’t be more different.
Like any breakup, you only control your half of it.
The last time I gave notice, my employer told me to grab my shit and get out, not in an angry way but more in a weird, hurt feelings “if you don’t want us, we don’t want you” sort of way. Which was pretty much what I expected this time as well. But to my surprise, a great deal of effort was put into attempting to sway my decision, including a personal visit from the COO and EVP. Which was flattering, and god knows I’m susceptible to flattery, but in the end we agreed to meet after I take a month off to discuss alternatives.
This was an odd decision for me, because I hadn’t entertained the idea of a continuing relationship, and we may well not be able to find common ground. But I always tell people not to say “no” till somebody makes an offer (it’s sadly hilarious how many of us don’t pursue things because we “know” it won’t work out), so I’m taking my own advice.
So, instead of the clear six-month sabbatical I had planned, it may be as short as a month – with emphasis on “may”. I’m going to squeeze the most out of it, returning to a life focused on creation (both writing and visual art), physical fitness, more interesting meals (I’ve fallen into a rut), pursuit of passions and connecting with friends and strangers.
The reward for my decision is the decision itself, everything else is gravy. The final thing I’ll focus on now that I own my time, is cultivating decisiveness – I’ve gotten progressively worse at this since I became employed two years ago, and that’s a lesson I can’t let myself forget.