Important Decisions …
You only make a few really important decisions in your whole life, the ones that are life changing.
Most people think they make important decisions every year, or month, or week … or even every day. Some really self obsessed folks think they make really important decisions every hour!
The reality is that most decisions have a very limited half-life, i.e.: the amount of time that decision lingers until you can make another decision that changes whatever happened as a result of the previous decision.
The simple reality is that virtually all decisions have a half-life of some kind, meaning they can be changed or even completely reversed as though they never happened at all.
Even getting a tattoo isn’t a permanent decision, but for now removing a finger would be, although even that decision leaves you with prosthetic options.
So when you think about it the only really big decisions, the important ones, are the ones that ripple out in space and time, affecting you in ways that are hard to comprehend completely when you make them.
These decisions almost always have an affect beyond you and where you are standing in the moment. These kinds of decisions affect others, and usually your relationships with them. They may even affect dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions or billions of people, depending on who you are and the position you occupy when you’re making them.
But for most of us, the really big decisions, the most important ones linger most of all in our own lives, and we need to have a way to understand what they will mean to use before we commit to them.
I know a bit about making these kinds of decisions, because I have lived in the unique space of not only making my own … some remarkably successful ones and others that still linger in my life in ways that force me to relive them with some degree of regret, but I digress … I have also been privy to the decision making of clients whom I’ve stood beside when they were making some of the really big, important decisions in their lives.
Very few folks have the privilege of standing alongside someone as they make a truly critical, crucial decision in their life, and have that person turn to them and ask for advice or an opinion, one that is likely to have some weight in the decision that’s about to be made … possibly one that will change the course of a life. Yet, I have stood there, next to someone more than once, who was about to make what felt to them a life and death decision, and in a few cases was just that. And, in a few cases sometimes making that decision for more than just themselves.
I don’t think there is any more sobering experience I’ve had than those times someone has turned to me in a critical moment about making a crucial decision in their life, one that would change the course of their life and possibly the lives of many others, and asked for my advice or opinion knowing that they’d consider almost as valuable as their own personal counsel.
What You Must Know Before Making A Really Big, Important Decision:
What I’ve learned from standing in that unique space next to someone is that all decisions have consequences that extend beyond the moment you are making them in the here and now.
When you are making really big, important decisions you need to know they will have lingering consequences, and you cannot know all of them when you are making the decision.
This means you will have to learn to accept the risk of making really big, important decisions and the consequences they bring, even the unknown and unexpected consequences of the decision, or be at the mercy of having those decisions made for you by default.
The really big, important decisions don’t go away, they don’t fade and become meaningless in your life. Even when you refuse to make a big and important decision it will linger, and it will grown the stench of a rotting corpse, becoming more foul and difficult to deal with as you wait.
The most successful and fulfilled people I know share three common traits:
- First a kind of paradoxical one … they make all the decisions they can immediately and don’t make any decision that they aren’t ready to make until the waiting for that decision is full
- They include the counsel of another or others in their most important decision-making, and
- They own whatever decisions they make completely, especially when they don’t turn out well
All three of these are present at all times for the really big, important decisions that the most successful and fulfilled people I know make for themselves and others, because often these folks are making decisions that deeply impact the lives of others as well as their own.
What’s most curious to me though is how most less successful and fulfilled people do exactly the opposite …
- They rush into decisions that could have waited and that they are in no position to make, while waiting on the decisions that need to be made and that they can make in the moment …
- They often or even always make their biggest and most important decisions based solely on their own counsel, neither thinking nor knowing how to engage another in helping them work through them, or not having someone in their life they can and do trust to stand in that space with and for them …. and
- They refuse to own the decisions they make or the consequences that come with them, always looking to blame someone else for what happened and what went wrong after the fact, it’s never their fault in their own minds, so they never get to learn from their mistakes and are doomed to making the same ones over and over again.
Now you might be reading these lists and wondering why they are so different … opposite from one another in fact.
My experience suggest that the most successful and fulfilled folks accept that life is uncertain and full of risk. They know that some risks can be avoided or mediated, and others are meaningless despite being present. These folks also know that those risks that cannot be avoided, mediated and are of great importance must be faced despite the fear they feel, and the do just that … they face what must be done directly and then they act, but only when they can and must, with the advice of trusted counsel, and the accept whatever will happen as a result of their own making.
The less successful and fulfilled people act from fear to relieve themselves of it, never really having learned to stand in it and accept that some things must be faced and cannot be avoided or mediated. They let their fear force them to make decisions they are incapable of making from how they are and where they stand in the moment, they insist on making them on their own or despite counsel otherwise from others, and in no way do they accept the full weight and responsibility of making their own decisions, because they feel forced into them by their fear and look to find a scapegoat they can blame for whatever tragic outcomes may come as a result of their own faulty approach.
I’ve seen dozens of examples of both … extremely successful and fulfilled folks who make truly high-quality decisions, and much less successful or fulfilled people who cannot seem to get out of their own way to make even moderately big or important decisions well.
What Are The Really Big and Important Decisions You’re Likely To Make?
Okay, I’m not going to give you a list, instead I’m going to give you principles you can use to make your own list.
The first principle is this:
Any decision you make that has lingering consequences through space and time that cannot be reversed immediately after you make it and take action on it is a big and really important decision.
Decisions of this kind include many critical health choices that you may find yourself forced to make in a moment of crisis, including who you choose to assist you and what options you take to address the crisis, whether your own or for another. Any decision that would alter the course of your life, or the life of another irrevocably is a big, important decision such as the decision to have a child, to give up a child or, to foster or adopt a child. From the first moment after you make these decisions and act upon them they immediately build momentum and compound to become big and important decisions in your life and that of others. There are also decisions to not do something that is time critical that are big and important decisions, like taking action to prevent harm to yourself or another, from something as simple as putting on a seat belt, or deciding not to drive in a severe storm if you don’t absolutely have to for something even more critical than avoiding a situation you don’t need to be in that puts you and others at risk. Make all these decisions with great care, and with the advice and input of counsel whenever you can.
These kinds of decisions also include any decision you make to harm yourself or another with grave consequence, for example anything that would cause the loss of a limb, an organ or a life. This could be from intentional self inflicted trauma, or unintentionally inflicted trauma like driving while drunk and permanently injuring yourself or another. These decisions also include setting down any path that leads to an escalation of events that cause this kind of trauma, from something as simple as not getting enough exercise or eating poorly, to taking drugs that lead to a crippling addiction, or engaging in activities with others that result in inevitable and devastating consequences like gambling beyond your means and building inescapable debt with people that must be paid, or following urges like sexual desire to places that can only end in grief for yourself and those you indulge yourself with as well. Avoid decisions of this kind at all costs if you are able.
The second principle is:
Any decision that requires you to make extraordinary effort to remove yourself from, change the outcome or direction of where it’s going, or how it will affect others after you make it is a big and important decision too.
Okay so we’re probably not talking about life and death here, so we a little removed from that intensity of risk and the decision making associated with it. However, these decisions do have lingering consequences and need to be made with utmost care whenever possible. An example of this kind of decision is entering into any kind of committed contract … from marriage to a professional engagement where you’ve pledged something from your time to a specific outcome you must produce or suffer the consequences if you fail to do what you’ve committed to and promised. It might also be a decision not to do something that would set you up for failure that you can avoid by saying no now. As with any big and important decision you’ll make, these kinds of decisions often require more than just simple counsel, but often professional counsel from experts like an attorney or accountant who can see the long term ramifications of your decision in way you could not on your own.
It might also be a professional decision regarding a business you own or run where you really do need the counsel of others with greater expertise and more qualified than you to make the proper decision. And, minimally you’ll want to have a trusted adviser, a personal “consigliere” of sorts in your corner for these kinds of decisions. This person can assist you in thinking through your decision, and while whatever decision you make will be your own, and as such you must own it completely, your consigliere can not only help you consider it in ways you might not on your own or from a view you that you wouldn’t take on your own, they may also be useful or even instrumental in carrying it out, or presenting it on your behalf as you spokesperson. This last bit is a masterful ‘trick’ of many elite performers creating a means of later modifying what has been said with a grace not otherwise possible.
The third and final principle for now is this one:
Almost all truly big and important decisions involve other people, usually people who hold a significant place in your life.
When it comes down to it the really big and most important things in your life will be about the people you care for, care about and love.
This is a key distinction about big and important decisions, it’s almost always about the people in your life.
Who you marry, the way you raise your children, the friends you make and keep company with, who you hire or work for, or work with … all these kinds of decisions involve other people. They can be and often are big, important decisions.
The think to know and remember about these decisions are that you are building a bank or good will or ill will, and you will do both in your lifetime. There is no pleasing everyone, and any attempt to do so will cause more harm than good, so get over trying. You want to know yourself and trust yourself to know when to say ‘yes’ and when to say ‘no’ to others regardless of how they will feel in the moment.
The ability to know when to say ‘yes’ and when to say ‘no’ to another person is a critical life skill you must develop if you want to live a successful and fulfilled life.
Saying ‘no’ as soon as possible is the surest way to minimize bad feelings and any ill will you will create with others. In fact becoming know as someone who says ‘no’ often and quickly gives you a tremendous freedom to do so, and makes those times when you say ‘yes’ far more meaningful.
Saying ‘yes’ is a commitment of yourself to another, and if you want to live a successful and fulfilled life you must practice living your commitments, the promises you make to others. No one hears the promise made to them by another as a casual comment, they will always take your promises seriously, until you prove to them that they cannot … then they will never take your promises seriously again. So better to say ‘no’ now, than to promise something you find later you cannot or will not follow through with and deliver.
As with all other big and important decisions the decisions in your life involving other people are often, if not always, made better by the trusted counsel of another. We are too charged around others to see them fully for who and what they are, and there is no guarantee that in this case two heads will truly be any better than one, but it does raise your odds of getting it right and your chance to make the best decision more likely.
This is especially true when the decisions involving someone is for you highly emotionally charged … either positively or negatively, love and hate are not often the best ground for making the best decisions. Yet, regardless of the counsel of others you must especially be willing to own your decisions made on the ground of love or hate.
Tread this ground with the utmost respect and humility, for here you will look back and see the biggest and most important decisions of your life.
The bank you make in the space of your relationships with others is the one you will draw from more and more as your own life force and will dwindles. You will find that you want to sit quietly with a trusted friend you’ve invested much with rather than move on to the next thing to do, the next great accomplishment in your life, when this time comes for you. Yet, will find yourself drinking alone, staring at an empty chair if you are not making these investments into the bank of life and relationships now. In these times of your life family and friends will be seen as your greatest treasure, so fill the treasure chest now with what’s most meaningful and not the trinkets many believe to be the stuff of great fortune.
As always I am humbled to have walked in this space with others who have and do trust me as one of their trusted advisers whom they look to for counsel when life shows up with these really big and important decisions, and for a few I have had the honor of standing alongside them as their personal consigliere when life showed up most critically, this is an almost unimaginable responsibility and privilege. Yet, as I scan the heavens and look to my own future, I see that these seeds I have sown have born the greatest fruit and my treasure chest is full, thank you for allowing me such grace …
Buona Fortuna and Abundanza,