We all share the fantasy of a right decision – it’s of course the one that will make our lives better and us happier and healthier. I use the word fantasy because this is a reality that can really only fully exist in our minds. A “right decision” is usually something we think we have made because we have downplayed the cons of what we are choosing and the pros of what we are not choosing. We have created the illusion that we have chosen something that is good and abandoned something that is bad. Here is the painful truth about decisions/choices – All choices involve loss and loss is painful. At the very minimum when we make a choice, we are losing the chance to see what would be if we had made the other choice. Usually we are losing more than that.
Let’s say, for example, I am working with a client, Tim (a fictional client I am making up) who is miserable in his graphic design job. He is finally offered a chance at a promotion at work right around the same time as he is offered a job outside the company that he applied for. We sit and talk about his choice and he decides he should get out of that company and take the new job – the new job is in a cool company with a fun culture and is a bit more money. He can leave behind all the stress and drama from the old job. He decides to take the new job, sure it will bring his life a lot more ease. A few months into the job we are talking about his experience. Tim shares how despite the perks of his job, how stressful it is in many ways. He is still learning the new culture and feels a bit like an outsider still, we talk about how he misses the colleagues at his old job that he commiserated with and ate lunch with. He also can’t feel his raise in his paycheck as he is now in a new tax bracket and it doesn’t feel like more money in his pocket. Tim wonders if he made the right decision – maybe with a promotion at his former job, some of the stress he felt would have been lifted and he could still be eating lunch with his old work friends. Did Tim make the wrong decision?! No! All that is happening is that Tim is feeling the challenging parts of his choice that he wasn’t thinking about when he made it. He wanted his choice to feel fully better with no downsides, but that’s not a possible reality. We can imagine an alternate reality where Tim chooses to stay at his company and take the promotion and is unhappy wondering about how much better life would be if he had just taken the new job. While it is sad for Tim (and all of us) to accept that choice inevitably involves these sorts of challenges and losses, it can help ease the burden of our own pressure to be perfect and make all the “right decisions.” And we won’t feel so shocked when they are things about whatever choice we make that are difficult.