A dear friend recently told me she’s having headaches and stomachaches as she contemplates a huge, life-changing decision, one that’s increasingly facing people in my industry, journalism — to stay or go. Should she accept a buyout (worth a year or more’s salary), or stay working? (She’s 62, and married.)
We’ve faced the same question a few times here as well, as my husband has also worked decades for a major newspaper shedding staff. But journalism doesn’t pay well. Not to mention, there are very few employers in my industry who’ll take on someone older than 40, so taking a buyout probably means your career is over.
I’ve made a few life-changing decisions, from accepting a fellowship in Paris for eight months, (leaving behind friends, family, career, dog, boyfriend, apartment) to leaving Canada to follow a then-beau to the U.S., a man I hoped I’d marry, (he bailed after two years of marriage.)
The problem with decisions is…every one you make, (and the ones you avoid), have consequences. And we simply can’t know, in advance, what those will be.
So how to make them and not freak out?
Mitigate your risks
If you’re moving “for love” (risky as hell for many people), certainly leaving behind a great job, family, friends and a place you like a lot — what else is there besides your sweetie? What if it doesn’t work out romantically? Can you afford the rent? Can you easily find work? Can you re-locate again, and how soon and where to?
Consult those affected
If you have children old enough to participate in the decision intelligently, include them. But some moves are going to be stressful and disruptive, even if they’re necessary. The times I’ve felt most betrayed, and it’s happened repeatedly, was when my life has been up-ended by others with no notice or discussion of how it would affect me as well.
Do your due diligence
If you’re thinking of working for X, do your homework! Check out glassdoor.com to read others’ opinions of what it’s really like to work there. If you’re considering a college or course, ask others what they think. There is a lot of data out there and ignoring it is silly.
What’s the absolute worst that might happen if you’re wrong?
If you choose the wrong partner/job/city/university, getting out will have a cost, financial, emotional, intellectual. It’s usually better to get out quickly (or not get in) than stick to something not at all what you hoped for or expected.
Strengthen your safety net
Good friends, good health and some cash in the bank are all smart ways to give yourself back-up if something doesn’t work out as planned.
Make a list of pro’s and con’s
If one side is a lot longer than the other, that’s a clue. If you’re still stymied, put every item in order of priority. I wouldn’t ever want to live, for example, in a place with very little racial or economic diversity, or one that is relentlessly religious and/or politically conservative. Nor one with high heat/humidity, tornadoes or hurricanes. (That cuts out entire portions of the U.S.)
Have Plans B-K
Smart people always have a Plan B, just in case. I try to have Plans B-E, at least. Give yourself multiple options or escape routes and you’ll find decision-making less terrifying. How quickly or easily can you put the next plan into action? What obstacles would slow or prevent it?
No decision is perfect or risk-free!
The perfect is the enemy of the good; i.e. at some point, you simply have to get on with it! No decision is perfect and every choice means not choosing something else, whether the style of your wedding dress, your college or grad school or deciding to have children. Don’t make yourself insane asking everyone else for their opinions. You probably really know what makes you happiest, (or most miserable.) Go with that.
If a bunch of other people line up to second-guess your decision, whose life is it anyway?
Here are a few major decisions I’ve made and how they turned out:
Accept eight-month Paris fellowship, age 25.
Upside: best year of my life, great new job when I got back.
Downside: Broke up with boyfriend (secretly relieved.)
Move to Montreal at 28 to work for the Gazette, leaving friends, family, city I know well.
Upside: fantastic, cheap, huge apartment; great new boyfriend who later becomes my husband; some adventures in Quebec reporting, big-ass salary and low cost of living.
Downside: miserable, long, bitter winter; horrible newspaper with nutty management; taxes through the wazoo eat up most of my big raise. High crime rate, crappy public services.
Move to New York suburbs with fiance.
Upside: score a gorgeous apartment, he gets a good job fast.
Downside: don’t know a soul, people hard to meet or make friends with, cost of living is high, he bails on the marriage and finding work in New York journalism is, initially, really hard.
Marry him, despite doubts
Upside: fun wedding, honeymoon in France, decent alimony post-divorce.
Downside: humiliation and stress of brief, miserable marriage. Having to re-invent alone in a place with few friends and no job.
The greatest challenge of decision-making is forgiving yourself when things go south, as they sometimes just will. We can only use our very best intelligence and all the facts at hand. We are who we are!
Here’s a poignant post from C. at Small Dog Syndrome about many of the decisions she’s made in her early 20s.
This is an extraordinary radio interview with a 91-year-old man, Sid Rittenberg, who is the only American to join the Chinese Communist party — a decision that cost him 16 years in solitary confinement.
An amazing account, from Vanity Fair, of Malala, the rural Pakistani girl shot in the head for speaking out in favor of girls’ education there — and the journalists who later deeply regretted having pushed her into the spotlight. Their decisions clearly put her life in danger.
Here’s a sad/funny tale of a man who bought and renovated a house in L.A. — despite the dire warning not to from a tarot card reader. His house is gorgeous, but his wife left him.
How do you make decisions?
Do you find it difficult?