Simple Decisions in a Complicated World

There are so many decisions in one’s life that are made alone. You ask others – a friend, relative, coach, partner or a neighbor – to weigh in; but when the decision has to be truly executed – it is your name that’s etched on paper.

Having migrated to the US as a student, I was suddenly face-to-face with life decisions, during a very early stage of my life. Whether to move to an apartment from the dormitories, which roommates to pick, location of an apartment or what furniture one may need – are all simple, yet building-block decisions in one’s life. Growing up, my parents like many others, made most decisions; I was not necessarily prepared to have a “judgment call” on topics like these.

When you are nineteen or twenty, you don’t always understand the gravity of these decisions; there is a need to make a decision– so you make it; sometimes your roommate turns out to be a person who doesn’t share the chores or pay the bills on time – another time, the furniture you buy (from a garage sale) just collapses within a couple of weeks. However simple or mundane, the outcome of such decisions sometimes makes you the person who you are.

I have a childhood friend, who is paralyzed in front of the frozen food section, picking the brand of yogurt that he may want. To me it’s a simple decision; to my friend it’s complicated.  It requires one to make a choice – and to live with that choice – maybe for a day – or maybe a lifetime.

As one grows older, and realizes that the number of decisions we make, during our lifetime, may be growing smaller by the day; however, they may actually have greater impact on more people – and we may have to live with them for a very long time – if not, forever; now, it takes on a whole new dynamic of thinking.  

Today, when decisions have to made, I think of all the different stakeholders in the process – how will my decision affect all of them; I worry about the different outcomes, think of counterpoints – and strategies to balance the potential negative outcomes. I am not certain if the process is complicated – or I make it more so.

Few years ago, at a life-intersection, I had the opportunity to pick from three very exciting career opportunities. Each role was interesting and held the merit on its own. One would allow me to be an entrepreneur in a foreign land – another one would allow me the helm of a multi-billion dollar division of major US corporation; all with handsome packages – required relocation to a different city – and sometimes to different region, altogether.

After talking to a series of people and getting the pros and cons from friends and family, I came to the conclusion that whatever the outcome, the decision has to answer the following:

  1. Is the decision right? Does it feel right for where I want to go in life? Does it feel ethically and morally justified? 
  2. Is the decision fair to everyone involved? To my family, their needs? To my own aspirations?
  3. Is the decision beautiful? Elegant in nature or contrived to fit the needs of a certain time? Does it feel like I am trying to force it – or is it flowing naturally?

I realize that not all decisions require such philosophical pondering; however, there does come times, when it’s important to give the decision-making a due process. I have also found that when I use these guidelines, and, at least one of these criteria is negative, it’s much better to not make the decision.

Not making a decision, often, is a major decision.

Sometimes we get caught in a “false choice” of trying to rationalize that some criteria are met – so we should go ahead with the decision. I have found that, in the long run, with rationalization, I have regretted making those decisions.

I try to imagine where my decision-making skills originated; are they genetically pre-ordained– or did I learn them over time, through many different experiences? One is never certain if Gladwell’s “thin slicing” of decision-making (Blink) is innate or learnt over time.

It’s easy to digress and think how to help my teenager to make the right decisions every time.

The best I can do is to teach her to understand right/wrong in our world view, understand fairness – to consider others around her, and, finally, appreciate the beauty and flow of a river – natural and serene. I also want her to understand the contrast of difficult, contrived decision – that creates conflict, chaos and heartache.

Ultimately, she has to learn from her own mistakes and build her own decision framework. However much I try to protect her from her own circumstances, if I don’t let her graduate into decision-making, she can only make more mistakes.

After all the pondering, some decisions still go wrong – or not exactly as we intended. Like a complex, multivariate, calculation, life takes its own twists and turns and we are left wondering where things exactly went wrong. That’s the time faith comes to our rescue – whatever has happened, has happened for the best.

One can only make decisions about tomorrow. So, we move forward. Learn from our decisions and ardently hope and pray that the decisions we make tomorrow, are slightly better than the one’s made, the day before.