By Fiona Fewell
‘Just make a decision’ is the easiest thing in the world to say to myself or someone else when it appears to be procrastination that is preventing it from being made, but sometimes making a decision is not that simple, no matter how small it may seem.
I am not certain that it is even about the size or weight of the decision that makes it easier or harder to make, and I don’t think a decision can be taken out of the setting in which it is being made. I have found myself taking longer to make a decision about whether to drive up the road to buy an ice cream with the kids, than I have to book a holiday with money that I don’t have a sufficient amount of for this type of excursion. I do not know why this is, except that the latter felt like the right thing to do, and I was ambivalent about the first. There was not a large amount of fact-gathering that consciously took place but the gut-feel around the decision to go to London was definitely stronger. That is not to say that I didn’t suffer from buyer’s remorse - I most certainly did - but the decision was made and, although I am now sad about not having that money anymore, the memories are thankfully worth every penny we spent.
Sometimes the more effort we put into a decision, the harder it is to make, and sometimes we make huge decisions with relative ease. In truth, we make hundreds of decisions every day, some of which we are comfortable with and some of which we are not.
There are a few that I have made that still haunt me, but if I think about the fact that I make so many decisions a day, and have done so for over 50 years, only having a few that I regret is not bad. With all the will in the world, given the number of decisions we make during our lifetimes, some are bound to be problematic.
Up until recently, I have been incredibly judgmental of a number of my decisions, but I have learnt to look at them differently over the last couple of years. Every single one seems to have some benefits and some unintended consequences, no matter how many decision-making tools we use or how much information we gather or even how strong our ‘gut-feel’ is. It seems to be less about the decision and more about making peace with the route that it leads us along, knowing that we did our best at the time.
I no longer believe that a decision can be considered “good” or “bad”, or “right” or “wrong”. Each decision takes us down new streams or rivers, that will have both rapids and smooth bits along the way, but ultimately, we make it down to the sea. It seems that it is not necessarily the decision point - picking the channel - that is the toughest part. Making the most of whichever channel we have chosen is what can be the most challenging.
A few years ago, along with my children, I made the decision to move further out of town. On the surface, the idea looked either mad or miraculous, depending on the lens a person looked through. It looked mad because we were moving away from schools, work opportunities and friends. It looked miraculous because we would be living between the sea and the mountains with space to breathe. Making the decision was not really the difficult part. I could have put a lot more effort into it, but I do not believe we would have made a different choice. It was living with the decision that took some effort. There are aspects of having moved that have been and are “good”, meaning that it could be thought of as having been the “right” decision. However, there are also aspects of the move that have been “bad” or challenging, which, every now and then, has made me wonder whether it was the “wrong” decision. This decision to move has had, and still has, its short- and long-term benefits and consequences. It has certainly changed the courses of our lives. Before the decision was made, I found myself caught up in whether it would be a “good” or “bad” call to make. Similarly, after having made the decision, I have questioned whether it was the “right” or “wrong” one, but neither of these thought patterns have been beneficial, other than by acting as catalysts to my realising that, judging a decision on whether it is “good”, “bad”, “right” or “wrong”, before or after the making of the decision, is not helpful and does not give me peace of mind. Besides, this decision has not run its course, anything can still happen and therefore a conclusion is premature.
At the same time and after a lot of deliberation and soul-searching, I made a decision to stop working to become a full-time Mom for a few years, for as long as my savings lasted, as it became very clear that I needed to be there for my two children. This benefited us all in that the children had a more available Mom, and I had less of the guilt that so many working parents live with on a daily basis. I didn’t have to deal with the dreadful task of deciding between being there for a school outing or being in the weekly Exco meeting. Now, I could say that the financial pressure I have put on myself has been a “bad” thing, heaven knows that I have had many sleepless nights about it, but it was a gamble that I chose to take. My children are the most important Beings in my life and yes, keeping a steady income could have been the right decision to demonstrate this. Not being financially secure could turn out to be detrimental to their and my wellbeing. Someone else would have made a different decision if faced with this situation, but that does not make either decision “right” or “wrong”. This was just that, a decision, a choice, that we have to make work for us.
As parents, in business, and in life in general we make calls every day. We cannot know the outcome of many of these calls immediately, some even for the next 20, 30 or 40 years, yet we judge our own and others decisions so quickly. I will not know if the rest of the world is “right” about limiting their children’s access to screens more than I do, or about allowing my underage teenager to test her tolerance of alcohol before she was legally allowed to. Regarding the latter, my guess is that it would have happened behind my back anyway, but the decision to acknowledge that it was happening definitely could have blown up in my face had something serious happened.
Everything we do carries a decision. I can pick up the clothes that are on the floor now, later or not at all. I can go into the meeting and argue the point, or I can let it go. I can leave now and arrive at my next destination early, or I can unpack the dishwasher quickly so that it is dry when I get home, which could make me end up being late. These ‘simple’ decisions could have big consequences, or no consequences at all, but we cannot know that when making the decisions, so overthinking and judging them does not feel helpful.
I have often found that I give myself false deadlines or try to make decisions that should be made in the future, prematurely. For example, I may be wondering whether I actually want the job that I am sitting with an application for? If the decision about whether or not I want it isn’t clear, then maybe it would be better to look for an easier one, like filling in the application. If I don’t hear back from the potential employers, there is no additional decision to make. On the other hand, if I hear back from them, then I can make a decision as to whether or not I go for the interview. Either way, the decision regarding whether or not I will take the job, may not be a ‘now’ one. Sometimes, if the decision has felt too difficult to make in the moment, I have found it better to postpone the making of it. That in itself is a decision.
On reflection, knowing that I make decisions every single day - most of which I don’t give a second thought to, some of which I am proud of and some of which require effort from me to make them workable - makes me feel stronger. I am learning to trust my gut while also being conscious of my mood and other factors, at the time of having to make a decision. If I am not clear on one decision, what seems to work is finding smaller ones that I can make, which may help with making the bigger one further down the line. Labelling or judging the decisions as “good” or “bad”, or “right” or “wrong”, prevents me from moving with the flow. On the whole, I try to live with the course I have chosen. When I am strong, I paddle hard, and when I am not, I narrow my goal to staying afloat. In every river there are calm spots and I choose to make the most of those, while knowing that when I hit the rapids, I just have to do what I can until I’m through them.