Tough call: Learning to make difficult decisions

There are times in our life when we have to make tough decisions: whether to leave a relationship, a job, or a living environment that’s no longer completely satisfying; what career training to pursue; whether to accept a job offer that requires a long-distance move; whether or not to let our child do something risky; perhaps even which of several medical treatments to follow. After all, life is a journey filled with crossroads, each presenting us with choices that will inevitably shape our future. It’s hard enough when difficult decisions primarily affect oneself. But it’s often the case that our decisions will affect the people around us, including those we love the most.

As a pharmacist, doctor, entrepreneur, author, spouse, and parent, I’ve often had to make difficult decisions. For example: whether or not to go to medical school, pursue a career in surgery, start my own skincare company, invest in an infomercial (a second time, after the first one failed!), stay in my first marriage, or let my teenage daughter travel with friends for spring break.

Over time, I’ve discovered a number of “Insights” that have helped me to make these difficult decisions. In fact, they’ve become my guiding principles. I want to share a few of them with you, in the hope that they’ll help you navigate your own life’s crossroads.

“Listen to yourself so you can pay attention to your own needs.” In a world filled with noise and distractions, it’s easy for our inner voice to be drowned out. Yet, that voice often carries wisdom that is unique to us and fits the purpose for which we were born. Take the time to quiet the external clamor and tune in to your innermost desires and needs. Your intuition is a powerful compass, guiding you towards choices that align with your true self.

“Give yourself permission to make your own journey.” Society often imposes expectations and standards upon us, dictating what paths we should take. However, your journey is uniquely yours, and you alone have the authority to choose its direction. In fact, the goal of personhood is to develop into independent adults with our own sense of values, perspective, and understanding of what we want and don’t want. It’s up to us to give ourselves the freedom to deviate from convention when necessary and forge our own path.

“Follow your path despite what others think.” It’s easy to allow the viewpoints of others, especially those of significant others, to influence our decision-making and cloud our judgment. However, basing our life choices on pleasing others is a recipe for discontentment. It’s important to stay true to our own beliefs and values and follow the path that feels right for us, without worrying about external judgments or expectations. Ultimately, we are the ones who have to live with the consequences of our choices, so it’s essential to make decisions that align with our personal convictions.

“Forgive yourself.” Mistakes are an inevitable part of the human experience. We all stumble and fall as we grow, but that’s just part of the process. It’s how we respond to these mistakes that defines us. Instead of dwelling on past missteps, practice self-compassion and forgiveness. Understand that making mistakes is a natural part of learning. Consider how many times you fell while learning to walk! But it didn’t mean you stopped trying. So, forgive yourself for any perceived failures and use them as opportunities for continued learning and self-improvement.

“Learn from your mistakes.” Every setback presents an opportunity for growth and self-reflection. Instead of viewing mistakes as failures, see them as valuable lessons that propel you forward. Take the time to analyze what went wrong, extract the wisdom from the experience, and apply it to future decisions. Remember, it’s not about avoiding mistakes, but about learning from them and becoming wiser. Another of my Insights is “Failure is the path to success.” And, “If you haven’t failed, you haven’t succeeded.” In regards to inventing the light bulb, Thomas Edison once said, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

To be sure, it’s our concern for the people closest to us that often makes decision-making more difficult. After all, we don’t want to hurt or disappoint those we care about. We don’t want them to think less of us, if our decision fails to deliver the hoped-for results. And we don’t want to hurt them if our decision impacts their own choices. But I have also learned in my 85 years that each of us must give ourselves permission to make our own journey. Far from being selfish, being true to yourself permits others to do the same in their own lives. In fact, I have found that, “When you become the most important person to yourself, your accomplishments will amaze you.”

So, though tough decision-making is never fun, I encourage you to:

Listen to yourself;

Pay attention to your own needs;

Give yourself permission to choose your own path;

Embrace self-forgiveness and learning; and

Accept that the road to success is lined with ways that didn’t work.

And take comfort in knowing that every decision you make brings you one step closer to the life you truly desire!

That’s #ModernWellness.

P.S. Many of us postpone making tough decisions because we’re afraid choosing one option means saying no to all others. But I learned from a mountain climber that “keeping your options open” will never get you to the summit. You have to choose a route to the top and make it work. If it doesn’t, you’ll choose a different route the next time.

P.P.S. The Insights quoted in this post—and many others—are in my book, Creating a Healthy Life, editions one and two.


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