A friendly recently posted a link to a competition calling for submissions on the notion of “what’s stopping you”. While the competition itself didn’t grab me, the phrase certainly got me thinking.
I would almost always describe myself as incredibly indecisive. At a restaurant or video store, for example, I am peculiarly useless at making a decision. Michael frequently resorts to techniques like “well how about I have the burger, you have the pasta, and we can share?” or holding two DVDs behind his back and making me pick a hand (“my right or yours??”). When we go mountain biking, I’m always stopping before tiny obstacles and refusing to go any further, because there is a remote, obscure chance I might fall, hurt myself (or my pride) or otherwise end up with some form of negative outcome. I fret (almost subconsciously) over the worst-case scenario.
Yet this self-characterisation may strike many of my friends and acquaintances as being rather inaccurate. After all, this is the girl who, seemingly in a weekend, developed a complete disdain for her half-finished law degree (and quit), two years into full-time work, suddenly decided management consulting was not her thing and paid work was overrated (and quit), got engaged a day before her 23rd birthday (most of my old uni buddies still had a years worth of study to go….) and was married five months later.
I guess I can understand how you might think I err more towards the ‘decisive’ end of the spectrum.
I’ve often found this paradox within myself quite interesting. It seems that while I need a guide, a helping hand, or even a quiet threat to help me make the small decisions, when it comes to the big things there’s nothing stopping me. I see the path, decide it’s where I want to be – and I’m on it.
It’s a trait within myself that has grown over recent years, and I know is in no small part due to the encouragement and support of my now-husband Michael. As I often explain, my decision to quit my job as a consultant, in particular, was in no way just ‘my’ decision. It was a choice that both Michael and I made, based on our shared values and decision to pursue a certain life path, together. It was based on many discussions we had previously had about what we valued, where we were going in life, and how we wanted to get there.
Michael is also a naturally decisive person – you have to be if you are going to do things like start your own business in grade 12, and race in sports like downhill mountain biking and motocross! So I think I have learned a lot from his approach to life and his “ah, she’ll be sweet” attitude to life. For example, the serious discussion about quitting my job to be a full-time volunteer took about half an hour one Friday night. It started with Michael saying “why don’t you just quit?”, me replying “what? can we afford that? um… really?? just quit??”, and he countered with the winning reply: “oh we’ll be ok”. No numbers were crunched, no stress was had over all the things I was ‘throwing away’. It is an invigorating, exciting and amazing way to live life.
I think many people could benefit from a good dose of big-picture decisiveness in their lives. So what have I learned from my own changing approach and attitude?
1. Choose it.
The first step is to choose decisiveness. You need to want to live in a way that relishes the moment and seizes the opportunities that float past. I have, to a certain degree, actively worked to maintain and increase my ability to operate with that level of flexibility and fluidity – and while I’m still not there all the time, I believe the changes I have made have lightened my spirit and made me a much happier person.
It’s not easy, and I still struggle with that choice between cookies and cream, and hokey pokey – but I’ve realised that when it comes to the big things, my approach has shifted and I recognise the need for big, bold decisions. I’ve chosen to be decisive and purpose-driven in my approach to the big stuff.
2. Practice it with your heart, not your mind.
Choosing decisiveness is just step one. You need to take that next step – that leap, even – of acting it. I’ve had many conversations with people about how they “really admire” my decisions, and how they “wish” they could do the same. But they can’t, for a variety of reasons that I can see are causing internal battles in their minds, as they run the idea through to its “logical conclusion” and their mind proposes all the reasons why they “simply can’t do it”.
There in lies the problem – I think it needs more heart, and less mind. The mind tells you the obstacles, the negatives, the things you’re giving up, the possible problems you may face. When I’m standing at the top of a mountain bike trail, it’s my head that tells me I can’t do it. It’s my gut, my instinct and my heart that will get me through it – if my head will just let me try.
Those people who ‘wish’ they could make the same decisions that I have miss a valuable point – it’s not about making the ‘same’ decisions as I have. Everyone’s circumstances are different, and if you have three kids and a mortgage, it may not be a good idea to just quit your job and hope for the best. But if you are called to find something more fulfilling in your work, then you can find ways to do that. You might actively pursue training to get you a job in an organisation you admire, for example. Whatever it is, you have to see it, want it and do it.
Use your heart to guide your decisions, and don’t be afraid. If you can see your path, then don’t let your mind tell you it’s too hard to get there. Allow yourself the freedom to make the leap and love every minute of it.
3. Have a vision.
It’s all well an good to talk about following your heart, but how does your heart know where you want to go? While decisiveness may mean you make big decisions in a seemingly ‘fast’ way, that belies the amount of thought and reflection that has to go into determining your ultimate purpose and path.
Michael and I have spent many, many hours “planning”. Many a Sunday morning breakfast has been had with a large scrapbook on the table between us as we talk, map out rough timelines, work through challenges and ideas. Each of those discussions has taken a different format, and is driven by whatever is on our minds at the time. But through having those discussions we are able to work through some of the big questions that are on our hearts.
It actually took me quite some time to make the choice to leave law. We had been talking for a while about what I wanted to do in life – what was important to me, what I valued, how I saw my life taking shape. It was not that I spent months deliberating about the choice to actual leave law school – no, that choice was made in a few hours one Sunday morning. But I had spent a lot of time reflecting on my values and vision, so the choice itself became much easier. I was able to relatively quickly assess a big choice through the lens of my core values and vision for my life.
4. Have faith in tomorrow.
No matter what your faith or belief system, I’d hazard that few of us believe that we have absolute control over tomorrow. We can’t predict the future or how things will turn out – so we need to have faith that tomorrow will take care of itself.
That is something I have had to work very hard at recognising and actively incorporating into my personality. Naturally, I’m a worrier – I do see the possible downside (I’d say those few years of legal training did nothing to abate that tendency!). So for me it has been an active process of letting go of concerns about things I cannot control. It’s about recognising that all I can control is my choice – and if my heart tells me that this is the best choice I can make at this moment, at this point in time, in these circumstances – then I must make that choice and be happy.
5. Don’t look back.
I was recently asked, for the first time, whether I regret my decision to leave my job. With barely a thought, I smiled and replied “not at all”.
I was happy to hear myself say those words with such confidence and sureness. It’s no use making big, bold decisions if I’m completely wrought with regret and a concern for what ‘might have been’.
I see no reason why I should ever regret any of my choices. It’s not because I’m sure they were the ‘right’ choices – but they are the choices I’ve made, they cannot be reversed and I see no point in regretting them.
While they cannot be completely undone, for the most part I know that if, at some point, I realise I should have pursued an alternative path that I disregarded at the point I made a big decision – well, I can work to get myself back on that path. If I suddenly realise I should have been a lawyer, I can finish my degree. If I want to make partner in a consulting firm, I’ll take myself and my diverse real-world experience back to a firm and work my way up.
It doesn’t work for all big choices (I ain’t reneging on no marriage any time soon!!) but for the most part, nothing is final and if you are determined to get somewhere and dedicate your energy to looking forward, not back, you stand a damn good chance of making it.
What’s stopping you?
Big, bold decision are definitely not easy – they take a good dose of focus, confidence in your ability to discern your path and an ability to be content wherever you land. But if you have those things, then the moment of decision is easy. Your heart no longer struggles to be heard over the din of an over-cautious head – it can take charge and take you on the most incredible journey through life.
So… what’s stopping you?