Are you facing something hard? Is there some circumstance that requires that you make a hard decision? A hard decision is any choice you make that may have serious or even irreversible consequences. They are tough, because there is a small margin for error. This could be a professional career making decision, an issue about a relationship, or a simple act of deciding how to deal with an aspect of life or death. No matter the case, I reflect on a personal conversation I had with a good friend, and share what I learned and a bit of advice that may anchor your thinking.
First World Problems
A quick word on choices and our “problems”. If you’re reading this on a smartphone, a tablet, or a desktop/laptop, then you’re likely privileged in that you have time and resources that aren’t devoted entirely to survival. And, so I will assume for now that you live with at least the bare necessities to get through your waking hours. And, you have access to electricity.
Now, of course, this post is about hard choices. So, there you are struggling with some issue. What are you going to do next? It could be a heart racing, panic-inducing experience, and I sympathize. I really do. My words escape me, but yes, it sucks. If there was a pill that would help you get through to the next step of your life, leaving this awkward, tragic, horrifying chapter behind, you’d swallow that blue pill dry.
Of the 226.7 decisions you and I make about food, or the 35,000 other conscious decisions we all make each day (source), there is a time when that one choice rules them all. It is the decision that carries a consequence that is absolutely bad or could be amazingly good.
A friend of my shared their experience with recent career disappointments. This has led to anxiety and a sense that things aren’t going quite right. As I listened, I couldn’t help but sympathize because of my experience in not knowing what to do next.
There’s always a next step isn’t there?
I’m being vague. But next step could be anything; a job, a move, a relationship. It doesn’t matter. In talking with my friend, that is what I relayed to him. Though somewhat younger than myself, it wasn’t that long ago that I had struggled with the same issue of deciding what to do with myself when things appeared to be at a crossroads.
Why Making Certain Choices are Hard (and What to Do About It)
I think for most decisions, you never know whether your decision was “right” until after you’ve done it and the consequences reveal themselves. It’s scary really, making potentially life-changing decisions. Your time is precious; you want to spend it wisely. You don’t want to make a mistake that you can’t fix. You want to maintain control.
Perhaps this is why so many people seem to develop an attitude of head-long arrogance (or apathy) toward life. These seem to be common mechanisms for coping. Avoidance and impulsive, devil may care attitudes are ways for you to keep tabs of an uncertain future. Anxiety often drives people to think and do crazy, irrational things. But, the hard, anxiety inducing things in life also work beneficially in stopping a person from diving headlong into new or further bad situations.
Hard choices are hard because they evoke fear, reveal your inability to control a situation, and ultimately, in the moment, make you feel powerless. Life difficulties reveal a truth in the human experience that life is finite and your strength to change the future has limitations.
What can you do when you face hard choices?
As I listened to my friend, I realized how important it is to know what doesn’t change next. Choices changes things. Your decisions are hard, because they will make the old situation different. So, what can you do to alleviate the negative experience and move forward more confidently? You can follow the advice of “experts“, but I honestly I think they make it more complicated than it needs to be. Experts make a living on trying to be experts.
(I don’t make a living writing these articles)
Here’s my advice to my friend who was at one of life’s crossroads. Our conversation was much longer and detailed, and we circled around this dialogue for a while. To keep it simple… here’s the useful metaphor we agreed on.
When you climb a ladder, you want to make sure you footing is secure before you reach for the next rung. That’s the wise thing to do. My advice to my friend was to first find a foothold, that anchor, in his life then maybe the decision to do the next thing wouldn’t be so hard.
Find a foothold, an anchor that you know won’t change no matter what decision you make, and your next choice won’t feel so difficult. I think you can identify what your anchor(s) are when you cling to them during the hard times. Making hard choices becomes easier when you know that whatever your decision you make won’t change your foothold.
The more hard choices you go through, with good or bad consequences, the better you’ll know what is needed to move forward freely. Embrace the suck, as my military friends say.
What anchors you through the tough times in life?