Think of a hard choice you have faced in life……...
It might have between two careers — spoken word artist or lawyer — or places to live — London or New York — or even between the person to marry — Jason or Michael.
Chances are, the hard choice you thought of, was something big, something momentous, something that matters to you! Hard choices seem to be occasions for agonising, hand wringing, and self-doubting. But I think we’ve misunderstood hard choices and the role they play in our lives.
Far from being sources of agony and dread, hard choices are precious opportunities for us to celebrate what is special about the human condition; that the reasons that govern our choices as correct or incorrect sometimes run out, and it is here – at this point, in the space of hard choices, that we have the power to create reasons for ourselves to become the distinctive people that we are. And that’s why hard choices are not a curse but an opportunity.
What makes a choice hard is the way the alternatives relate. In any easy choice, one alternative is better than the other. In a hard choice, one alternative is better in some ways, the other alternative is better in other ways, and neither is better than the other overall. You agonise over whether to stay in your current job in the city or uproot your life for more challenging work in a smaller firm because staying is better in some ways, moving is better in others, and neither is better than the other overall.
Just recently, actually a few weeks back, I was agonising over whether to leave my current role to take a lower position in a completely new area of banking, or stay in my job because I knew, well I thought I knew, very soon I would be promoted. I mean I did get promoted but that’s not the point here. My heart knew what it wanted, i.e. a change as well as a higher position, but when confronted with an offering that only ticked one of the boxes, I got thrown off. I accepted the new job but toiled with myself afterwards and doubted if it was the right decision. Doubt to me means don’t because that’s how I was taught. For this reason, I then went back to the recruiter and told her I had changed my mind. I did this on three occasions, i.e. I kept changing my mind. On the third occasion, the recruiter had said to me because I took so long in deciding she would now have to interview other people and I would then need to interview for the job. You can imagine my shock. What a slap in the face. However, when being honest with myself later on that day, I realised, I deserved just that. The lesson learnt here was that, when faced with a hard choice, don’t do what many people do in hard choices, which is taking the safest option!
People who don’t exercise their powers in hard choices are drifters. We all know people like that. Drifters allow the world to write the story of their lives. They let mechanisms of reward and punishment –pats on the head, fear, the easiness of an option — to determine what they do. So the one piece I would like for you to take away from this post is that hard choices are precious opportunities for us to become the distinctive people that we are!