I recently left my job.
Since, I've moved back home and spent the past few months trying to figure out what to do with my life, and in the process, I’ve realised a few important things about myself.
First, I’m hugely interested in psychology and the human mind. Second, that I’m an entrepreneur at heart and happiest when creating something from scratch and bringing something new into the world. And third, that anytime I try to take on too much at once, things don’t go so well.
That said, I applied and got accepted to study psychology at Birkbeck in London, and I’ve also been organising events as part of a new business project – The Weekend University.
Knowing I couldn’t start the business and do the degree at the same time, I’ve had to make a choice between the two.
Making this decision has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Along the way, I’ve thought a lot about decision making itself, and the rest of this post is a summary of three ideas that helped me make up my mind.
#1- Get Clear on Your Values
‘When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.’
Roy E. Disney
It’s a nice quote, but what exactly are values? And how do you get clearer on them?
Fundamentally, values are what guide our decisions.
As an example, let’s say a Mother has a promotion opportunity coming up at work, and she’s faced with the decision about whether to work late for an important presentation, or attend her son’s school play.
If she values her family, she’ll choose to skip work and attend the play. But if she values her career, then she’ll stay on late at work to finish the presentation.
In other words, she’ll choose the option that she values more.
Your values affect almost everything you do in life. By uncovering them, you can get beneath the surface of what’s really most important to you, and discover what’s driving your decisions and behaviour. Better still, when you’re clear on what you value most, it can help you make the big decisions in life.
So how do you do get clear on your values?
I recently interviewed Roman Krznaric on the Temple talks podcast.
Roman had just published his new book: Carpe Diem Regained – The Vanishing Art of Seizing the Day. In the book, Roman explores the idea of 'Carpe Diem' and challenges you to confront your own mortality and live with greater passion and intention, rather than just drifting through life.
The book contains an exercise from neuroscientist David Eagleman that helped me get clear on my own values and eventually make up my mind.
It goes something like this:
‘’Imagine yourself at a dinner party in the after-life. Also present are all the other ‘different versions of you who you could have become if you had made different choices in life.
There’s the version of you who was the family man, the version of you who became obsessed with his career and climbing the corporate ladder, the you who spent his life travelling, the you who quit his job to do what he really wanted, the you who became an alcoholic, etc.''
Now that you’ve thought about all the different ‘yous’ that could be at the dinner party – ask yourself; who would you admire and want to go talk to? And who do you want to avoid?
Knowing which versions of yourself you’d want to talk to is a clue to figuring out what your values really are, and knowing who you’d avoid can help you avoid some treacherous paths further down the line.
#2- Beware of the ‘Destiny Myth’
After I’d made my up mind what I was going to do, I kept wondering; ‘did I make the right decision?’
I don’t know if it came from Disney movies, religions or stories our ancestors used to tell around the campfire, but the idea that human beings have a predetermined path in life is deeply embedded in our culture.
Every day you hear things like: ‘It wasn’t meant to be.’ ‘It was fate,’ etc.
At times, this can be comforting because we feel that a higher power is behind the scenes directing our lives. However, when faced with a big decision, this belief can be crippling.
Think about it; if the destiny story is true, it means you have this one perfect life waiting for you – like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If you make the wrong decision, then you miss the gold.
So, we procrastinate with making big decisions in the fear that we’ll make the wrong one, and even after they’re made, we wonder; did I make the right decision?
One thing I’ve learned from this experience is simply that destiny is b.s. The choices and actions I'm taking every day are what's creating my reality - nothing else.
This way, when you make a decision you don’t have to worry that you’ve made the ‘right’ or 'wrong' one according to some predetermined life path. Instead, it's up to you to make the decision right by the actions you take every day following it.
#3 – Realise: Not Deciding is a Decision
The word decision comes from the Latin: 'to cut off.'
When we choose one thing, it means cutting off another.
This is a simple truth of life, but I ignored it and put off deciding between the business and university for months, telling myself I could do both.
But deep down, I knew I was lying to myself and that if I tried to do both, it would break me.
However, when I realised that by not deciding I was still making a decision, it gave me a new way to look at the problem. In other words, by not choosing one option and cutting off the other, I was choosing a third option: to do both and make myself extremely busy and miserable in the process.
When you realise that no matter what you do, you’re still making a choice, and you see the consequences of that choice, it can help you choose a better path.
The trick is to ask yourself two questions:
1.) What choice am I making by not choosing?
2.) And what are the consequences of this decision?
When you can get clear on that, everything changes.
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering what I ended up doing.
After doing the ‘after-life-dinner-party exercise’, I realised that I valued learning and growth above all else, so the question I needed to answer was simply: ‘What path will help me learn and grow the most?’
It took me months to finally make up my mind, but when I got there, the answer was clear; start the business and see where it goes. University can wait.
So that's where I'm at. We've had one 'Crash Course' so far, and the next one's coming up in October.
Did I make the right decision?
Only one way to find out!