Do you really make your own decisions?

A few days ago, I was chatting with a brilliant university student who is still exploring possible career paths (no different from most students). He asked me “which area of business do you think would be best for me?” This question triggered some reflection. I shared the story below and asked him to think about something we’re all guilty of, what I call: the decision-validation process.

Career decisions can be life-altering. Not to mention anxiety-causing. These important decisions often come with a tight deadline. Action is required.

A common action is to contact friends, contacts met at networking events, old co-workers, and family members. Upon telling them about the choices that lay before us in a particular situation, they may respond by sharing, “what they would do.” But do we already have some idea what they will say? The student I was talking to knew that I was extremely passionate about entrepreneurship. I’m quite sure he didn’t expect me to recommend a stable 9-5 job, where he is given set boundaries and limitations. When I suggested he consider starting his own business, his eyes lit-up.

Let me provide an example of the decision-validation process: While I was in university, I was offered a summer intern with the federal government. Everyone in my program wanted a summer intern with the government. It meant I would, most likely, be able to secure a government job upon graduation.

This placement was about a one-hour commute, I would have to be up at 4:30 A.M. to make it on time. (I was around 20-years-old – at that age, I wasn’t a morning person. 🙂 ) The pay was not great and the work itself didn’t seem all that exciting, so I wouldn’t be able to save much or gain much tacit knowledge.

My parents suggested I pass it up, but the interviewer, my potential future manager, was very persuasive – he said that if he was me, he would take this job.

I didn’t know what to do.

Dessert display in a cafe in Buenos Aires: decisions, decisions!
Dessert or no dessert? #ToughDecisions (Dessert display in a cafe in Buenos Aires)


I asked a friend for his opinion. I explained that I would have to be up at 4:30 A.M., then have to bus to the other end of the city and to do boring work for the next four months. I asked him what he would do. He was still in shock that a 4:30 in the morning existed. He said he would never do it. And he also said, “You knew what I would say.” He suggested I only asked him because I knew he wasn’t a morning person and that he would never even even consider such an offer. He was right. I obviously didn’t want the job or to secure a government job. I needed people to endorse me in my decision. I did end-up turning down the offer and never looked back or regretted it.

Being open to other’s perspectives and new opportunities is valuable, but ensuring the decisions made are yours, in the long run, will prove to be more rewarding and fulfilling. We often look to others to validate our opinions to make decisions. Why? Perhaps to avoid making mistakes by considering every single perspective, trusting others’ judgments more than our own, remove pressure from our own plates – it’s not as nerve-wrecking to make a decision for someone else. Making a decision can be stressful and difficult, but who knows your objectives, goals, strengths, weaknesses, and what you enjoy and find insufferable better than you?

Copyright © Esha Abrol. Canada. April 2013.


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