For we baby boomers, you may remember the TV show “Father Knows Best”. Every episode served up a new dilemma for one of the members of a household with dad displaying incredible patience and wisdom as he helped them reach a decision, which was ultimately the right thing to do. Week after week dad led his family members, and their friends, to make the best decision for them. But, most of us don’t live in such a sugar coated world with an all knowing, all seeing dad or advisor. So, oftentimes, we turn to friends or relatives for advice. And, sometimes, we may even want someone else to tell us what to do. Making the hard choices in life is…well…hard.
Recently, I had just such an encounter as someone I’ve known a long time asked me to tell them what to do about a life-changing matter. As I read their email, it reminded me of an epiphany I had as a thirty-something who often turned to spouse, friends or co-workers for answers. At the time, I was working for a company in Seattle, which bought real estate nationally. I was the company’s contracts administrator, drafting contracts, participating in the negotiations and overseeing the due diligence of multi-million dollar deals. My days were filled with excitement as well as high anxiety as one incorrect decision could cost the company a lot of money. So, on a day when a particular deal slowly went sideways, as the saying goes, I anxiously awaited the moment when I could speak with the partners, who were thousands of miles away on business in Hong Kong. When the moment finally came, I laid out the dilemma in detail and asked what I should do. The answer one of the partners gave shocked me. But, ultimately his answer empowered me. Very calmly, he said, “That’s your decision. I’m not there. I can’t read the situation. I can’t see what you see. I can’t feel what you feel. You’re the only one who can make that judgement call.” What? Me? Yikes!!! Eventually, I summoned the courage to make a decision and, as it turned out, a good decision.
Over the next few days, as I pondered the event, I felt empowered professionally. Eventually, I transferred the idea of presence in decision making to my personal life. No one knows what’s best for you like you. Wow! What an epiphany! I’d like to say I held this thought with every personal decision. But, the truth is, we don’t live in a vacuum. Personal decisions affect other people…family, friends, co-workers, even strangers. And, often, we use that fact as a rationale to take their advice. Sometimes, they even give us that reason for foisting their advice upon us. I’ve learned, in an excruciatingly long and painful set of missteps, to listen to advice, but, more importantly in the end analysis, to listen to my gut, my inner voice, my instincts. By reaching into the depths of my own center, I’ve been able to do what’s right for me. Selfish, you say? Hmmm…maybe. But, here’s the catch. Decision making is really problem solving. By reaching into my own center, I’ve taken responsibility for solving the problem and accountability for the outcome. Do I consider how my decision will effect others? Of course, I do. But, as I’ve discovered, taking accountability for my actions is what’s best for my relationships. It puts the responsibility squarely on my shoulders. I’ve also learned through countless mistakes it’s OK to make a mistake. I’ve learned how making no decision, taking no action is really abdicating to time and circumstance, which will eventually make the decision for me. Shudder the thought! I’ve learned to move ahead of any mistakes, ignore the “I told you so’s”, make a correction of direction, chart a new course. But, whatever the outcome, the decision belongs to me.
So, my advice, (and, yes, I do give this particular piece of advice on occasion) to you, my friend, wanting to know what to do…no one knows what’s best for you like you. While I’ll lend a sympathetic ear, point out options you may not have thought about and support your decision, I’m not there. I can’t read the situation. I can’t see what you see. I can’t feel what you feel. So, reach down into the core of your being, feel around your insides and ask yourself what it is which you want. You’re the only one who can make this judgement call.