The Fork in the Road: Making Tough Decisions

March 7, 2020 Updated: March 7, 2020
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Unless we are victims of decidophobia—and yes, that’s the name of a psychological condition for those who fear making decisions—most of us have little trouble selecting a possible course of action when the results are inconsequential. We opt for Palmolive over Dove for washing our dishes, or vice versa; we take the gray scarf rather than the red one from the store rack; we choose a movie from Redbox we’ve previously viewed rather than select a new one because it’s a “comfort food” kind of night.

Then there are the big choices, the commitments that will turn our lives upside down.

Not so easy.

What to Do?

Recently, an outfit I admire offered me the job of a lifetime—or at least, of my recent lifetime. The position would give me the opportunity to work with people I like and respect, to mentor college students, and to earn far more money than I now do. Even to be considered for this post was a high honor for me.

On the other hand, the last two years had brought me satisfaction and joy in my work. After spending some long months in a miserable purgatory I myself had created, I had found more outlets for my articles and was settled into a happy routine of writing, editing, and sending out five or six pieces a week. In addition, if I accepted the position, I would have to live three months of every year in a faraway city.

The pressure of a deadline made my decision-making even tougher. I received the offer on Thursday, and the two kind women describing the position by phone needed an answer by Monday, if not sooner. 

As she said her goodbyes, one of my interviewers told me to “think and pray” about what to do. She left out the word agonize. That condition I supplied myself.

Choices: Nice and Not-So-Nice

Most of us treasure opportunity, but life-changing choices and decisions can make for a harrowing ordeal. You’re offered a lucrative job in Pennsylvania, but you have lived 20 years surrounded by family and friends in Virginia. Do you take your wife and children and hie yourself off to the north, or do you turn down the offer and struggle on where you are? 

Or how about that woman you think you love? Do you ask her to marry you, or do you shamble on in your relationship, always unsure, always questioning whether you really love her?

Some Tips

Google “making decisions” and you’ll find scores of online sites with advice on how to make choices. The number of these advisers alone indicates we human beings struggle with choice and change.

Here, for what it’s worth, are the steps I took in deciding my future.

  • Consider your initial reactions to the choice before you. If your boss calls and offers you a promotion, and you dance around the apartment after putting down the phone, that delight is a sign of acceptance. If that guy you love wants to put a ring on your finger, and your heart leaps for joy, go for it. On the other hand, if that call from the boss or the proposal leaves you sitting on the porch at sunset with a glass of wine in your hand and doubt in your heart, it’s time for some deeper contemplation.
  • Get as much information as possible. Ask for details. The details of how I have lived my life these past two years are crystal clear to me, but the details behind the offer as originally extended to me were vague. This lack of information was not the fault of those interviewing me, but my own for failing to ask more questions. A follow-up call and half an hour of conversation helped clarify my responsibilities in the job offered to me.
  • Make a list of the consequences of your decision. Can you handle the additional responsibilities that accompany your promotion? Are you ready for marriage and all that it entails? Do you have what it takes to upend your life, move to a faraway city, and work with strangers? Or are you happier where you are? Draw up a list of positives and negatives, as I did, and then study what you have written. 
  • Talk to friends and family. Get on the phone and see how others react to your possibilities. Really listen to them. Answer their questions, share your doubts and your dreams, and take in their responses. Later, you can return to that porch with your glass of wine and ponder the advice they offered.
  • Weigh the consequences. Think long-term. This step is important. Look at the costs as well as the benefits of your choices. If the offer of a job involves moving from New Orleans to Kansas City, ask yourself where you would be happier. If you decide to leave a steady job in a financial planning firm to become an independent realtor, ask yourself if you have the oomph and self-motivation to succeed in this drastic change of employment.  
  • Abide by your decision. Once you’ve made up your mind, don’t spend time second-guessing yourself as to the choice you made. It’s wasted effort. Live by what you have decided, unless the situation becomes unbearable. If you move to Kansas City and find yourself miserable after six months, then speak to your employers and ask for a change. If you marry that guy, and your lives together have hit a rough patch, then address the issue with your husband and try to make that marriage better. 

Wrestling With Myself

In my own case, I walked through all of these steps. I looked at my initial reaction to the offer and realized I was doubtful rather than joyful. I made that follow-up call to obtain more information. I worked out a list of the positives and negatives. I spoke with two friends and emailed a family member, all of whom reacted differently to my news. I weighed the consequences—more money but far less time for my writing, a new adventure but fewer opportunities to visit with my grandchildren. 

The Outcome

I turned down the offer.

When I made this decision, an immense feeling of relief washed over me, which I accepted as a sign that I had taken the right path, however alluring the other path had appeared. In this particular fork-in-the-road moment, I had made the best decision for me and probably for my prospective employers. 

Onward.

Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.