“Stay the course,” I said to her.
“But which one?” she desperately responded.
“Do I stay in my current job or make a move?”
“YES, exactly,” I replied.
“But, which one?” she repeated.
“Yes, you’ve got it now,” laughingly I said.
Can you see what I was doing with her?
We were having a little fun playing with the binary answer that she thought she needed.
Like many of us at different points in our lives she felt at a crossroad.
At these seeming forks in the road we’re often pushed to make a binary, “exclusive or” choice of one thing vs. another, aren’t we?
A problem at these junctures is that it can be very hard to decide between this vs. that, can’t it?
That’s what I was playfully leading her brain through making this transition more fun.
I’m curious, have you found yourself at these types of forks in the road?
Perhaps in your career or business?
Maybe in relationships, marriage, or even divorce?
When you feel like you’ve really gotta make a choice one way or the other?
One thing that can be extremely hard in these moments is feeling that you NEED to decide.
Of course, the fact is, it wouldn’t be a fork in the road if you didn’t feel like you needed to make a choice, but how often do you really?
These types of “exclusive or” decisions can be the hardest to make because the construct is that you “must” choose one or the other.
Even sitting at a restaurant deciding between this or that or every other thing on the menu can sometimes be extremely difficult, can’t it?
Coz you of course “MUST” make a decision, you have these options in front of you, and as much as you might like one of the options, you know that it forces you to give up all others.
What happens here?
Well, we’ve all been here, haven’t we?
Often you suffer the so-called paradox of choice, which means that as much as we all love to have choice, almost always having choice makes it harder for you to decide.
There’s lots of reasons for this as you’ve experienced, including the dreaded decision-regret, which is what happens when someone else’s meal looks more like the one that you now wish you had ordered.
So in these cases where you feel forced to choose you can um and ah just in making a decision, often wasting tons of time or resisting making a decision altogether, and then once you have decided, you can find yourself wishing that you had chosen differently.
Sitting at the dinner table you must decide, mustn’t you?
You can’t just sit here all night going back and forth on ordering this or that, or pulling out a piece of paper and drawing up your pros and cons, so often you end up going with your gut, literally, with what you “feel like” eating.
In this context it doesn’t matter very much, does it?
Sure, you might not optimize this one meal but having some decision-regret about what you ordered is hardly going to change your life, is it?
But, what about, as was the case with the young woman I was advising here, when these choices do radically change your life?
How do you best make these decisions?
She felt stuck
A relative of a consulting client I was just jumping on a quick video call to help her out.
I’m glad that I did because by the time we spoke she looked like she’d been yanking on that fine hair pulling out her inner Einstein.
Ahead of our call she had sent me her lists of pros and cons, what she called her “Career Template” and 13 more pages that her executive coach helped her prepare for making this decision.
But with all of that work behind her and these pages in front of her, she was even more confused.
“I just can’t decide,” she said.
“A reason is because you are forcing yourself to make a compromised choice,” I responded.
See, that’s the problem with all those basic methods of comparing this vs. that, drawing up your pros and cons, so on.
Notice how it forces you to make trade-offs and ultimately get to a compromised choice where you are getting more of what you want relative to less?
What do you want?
See, a problem with those weak methods is that you’re forcing your brain to choose the option that has more of what you want, rather than actually going for what you TRULY want.
That’s why these types of “exclusive or” decisions can be the hardest to make because you’re often giving up nearly as much as you get.
But, do you really need to?
I’ll share with you that one of the harder choices that I was forced to make many years ago was would I keep moving down the marriage track with my girlfriend?
It was an extremely hard choice because I loved her dearly but just didn’t know.
And I really hated feeling like I was “wasting her time” because she had a clear vision to be married with children.
Back then I had only just started all this work and I was still navigating these hard choices in my career but I’d developed enough of my method that at least a few things became clear.
The answer in this case wasn’t no, but not yet.
Yet what I determined was that if we had been together for these years and she felt like she needed an answer, and my answer was not yet, then it was no.
The clock had ticked down, which is different to how I suggested this young lady look at her career.
See, one thing I discovered that became the system I built for myself that you see in my books for Doing What You Want is that rarely do you need to decide NOW.
She was about 8 years into her career, she’s well positioned in her current job, there was zero reason for her to make a change, and it was just a question of whether this was an upward sloping move.
“OK, but do I stay here or do I go?” she had kept asking.
“If the answer isn’t yes, it doesn’t mean it’s no,” I reminded her.
Instead, I encouraged her to see that if she clearly couldn’t answer this binary question now then there was at least a third option, “not yet.”
Because, and this might sound lame to you, but one thing that my decades of deep work on the brain has validated for me is that you know when you know.
So, if you don’t know, and you’re feeling stuck going back and forth on a decision, umming and ahing, then I’d take that as a strong signal that you simply don’t know, yet.
Forcing yourself to choose in these instances forces a compromised decision—why ultimatums backfire—of which I’ve seen many people ultimately regret and try, often poorly, to reverse.
When the fact is that rarely do these decisions need to be made now.
I totally get her situation because this is where I started this work in my career more than 23 years ago.
Never in my life did I imagine that the decision I was making back then would lead me down this path because I was just seeking the most simple answer for my career.
The same answer she was seeking—Do you stay in your current job or do something different?
This question of mine, what I labeled “What do you want?” came to dominate my life, and without any clear way of deciding I became obsessed with researching these things.
In the thousands of books I poured through I never found the solution.
Most of those books presumed that you had the same goal as everyone else—”success,” of course—but I was already “successful” and needed to know how you make these decisions from here?
Even most the books on goals were extremely basic and limited and none I saw gave you any intelligent way of figuring out what you want, other than repeating stuff like “follow your passion.”
See, where I ultimately took this young lady’s brain was to see that she was struggling to answer her question because she lacked a method for her career.
She was sitting in her job thinking about all the things that she disliked and all the other things that she could be doing, but she lacked a true north.
Yes, she had goals.
But she lacked vision.
Her goals were of the getting this or that variety, rather than a compelling vision that was pulling her forward into her future.
This is what I most discovered in building my System For Doing What You Want that you see in my books, which is why Step 1 Define It begins with defining your vision.
Rather than getting stuck thinking about the minutia of this choice vs. another, your vision is your true north, it guides where you are headed.
And with this vision in mind you see that many paths can lead you here.
See, this is where I was playing in her brain by saying “YES.”
She was pulling out her hair feeling all stuck in her false choice of do I do this or that?
What I was helping her brain see is that when you have a clear vision of where you are headed then you just keep moving forward on your best path that keeps leading you here.
It’s like this 12 Principle method that I modeled from the extraordinary achievements of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.
Musk’s vision to colonize Mars is the true north that guides the strategic and tactical decisions that they make for reaching here.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you never get stuck in harder strategic and tactical decisions, like does she do this or that job, or in SpaceX’s case, do they build Starship with carbon fiber or steel?
But it makes these decisions so much easier because you’re no longer fixated on the small incremental decisions, but how each of these tiniest steps keeps moving you forward towards your “Grandest Vision.”
Looking forward in your career, life and other “goals” this way you more clearly see that there are lots of paths that lead you to your vision.
And then, with your vision in mind, and with the right method, seeing you have many paths forward, you just keep iterating your tiniest steps all the way here.
Stay the course
“When you are clear on your vision and you’re just every day moving forward these decisions are way easier,” I said to her.
See, because as much as this young lady felt like she needed to make this or that other choice, she never did.
She has all the time in her life to keep moving forward towards her vision.
Many paths will keep moving her forward from here, including the infinite paths that she wasn’t even considering while her brain was focused on that binary decision.
“Hold onto your vision with dear life,” I begged her, “Stay the course and keep evaluating every path that will best keep you moving forward here.”
“When it’s time to change course you’ll know when you know.”
Beaming at the end of our call, “I’ve decided,” she implored.