What are some of the best decisions you ever made? Think about it – the ones with the largest positive impact. Maybe it was pressing the “call” button to end a toxic relationship. Perhaps it was letting yourself break down and telling a friend that you weren’t okay. It’s fine if it was a bumpy ride. Do you know which of your decisions made your life better?
Some of my best decisions include:
- Moving hundreds of miles from family to take a new job
- Ending a toxic relationship, even when I knew it would completely devastate them
- Going to therapy to heal old demons I hadn’t faced in decades
- Going to Meetup events to make friends even though I was an anxious introvert
When I studied these decisions, I noticed common themes and implications.
Theme 1: Being honest about difficult emotions
All of these decisions involved a vulnerable, almost painful honesty. It’s hard to tell your family you love them but you need to get away from them to learn who you are. It’s hard to tell someone you care about “You are kind and sweet, but that’s not enough.” And it’s harder still to be honest with yourself and admit “I will never be happy until I stop hiding behind coping mechanisms, and I need help because I can’t fix this on my own.”
Personally I can’t stand hurting people, and I feel like I’m a burden to others if I tell them I’m struggling and ask for help. Yet all the best decisions in my life involved being honest with others about hard emotions.
Implication: Sometimes, honesty is more important than protecting people or being a burden. If they really care about you then they’d rather have honesty than protection, and helping you won’t feel like a burden to them.
Theme 2: I didn’t feel ready
I cannot emphasize enough that I never felt ready to take these actions. I’m a spreadsheet-planner type of guy, but there are big decisions in life that you’ll never be able to plan exactly. Most important decisions are like that. I can look back now and it’s obvious that I’m much healthier and happier after the fact, but I was shaking in my boots and vomiting from anxiety when I pulled the trigger. That’s what I want to make clear: I felt scared, unprepared, and uncertain as I made the best decisions in my life. I knew each one was “probably a good idea,” but I had absolutely no idea how they would play out.
Implication: For some decisions you’ll never feel ready, and that’s okay. If you know what you need to do then you don’t have to feel ready.
Theme 3: Was it perfect? No, but “done” was good enough
Has anyone ever uprooted their entire life and made new friends in a new city with everything having gone perfectly according to plan? Has anyone ever had a perfect break up? I won’t even ask if therapy can happen perfectly. The point I want to make is that “done” was better than “perfect” for all of these. I don’t even think perfect was possible.
Implication: The pain of putting off important decisions is excruciating. But finally completing something you’ve been dreading feels incredible, even if it’s not perfect. Some of your best decisions were not made perfectly, and it was good enough. You can’t afford to wait until you feel ready.
What about you?
I really think you should do this exercise too. There are plenty of decisions I’m facing now where I don’t want to hurt others, I don’t feel ready for, and I know it probably won’t go perfectly. It doesn’t matter. I can look at the best things I ever did and these things were true then as well.
What were your best decisions? What are the common themes? I have a feeling there are a few more good decisions you could make right now, and there’s less holding you back than you realize.
Further Reading: If this resonated with you then I think you’d get a lot out of Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson. This book helped me navigate and come to terms with several very difficult changes/decisions in my life. Sometimes we get used to pain, and avoid making a change because at least the pain is familiar. But this book can show you that there’s a better way. It’s okay if we don’t know how to get there, we just need to go out and start looking.