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How to Deal with Decision Making at Tough Crossroads of Life

How to Deal with Decision Making at Tough Crossroads of Life

Crossroads.

That is one of the few words I regularly used (too much) in my early twenties. Why? I was at a stage when I was presented with multiple directions to choose, yet not wise or experienced enough to make the decision without fear of failing or regrets. Often I felt the energy and drive to charge forward, but I was afraid that I might choose the wrong path or if I’d miss the opportunity to build on my expertise if I hopped around too much.

Need versus desire

Advises were all around but they’re just that, opinions of others, perspectives on what mattered to them rather than yourself. Often, we’re being told that we cannot have the best of both worlds, or even to go with the flow and see how things go.

It was hard. Sometimes we have to choose between what we need versus what we desire, other times we have to weigh the importance and pick what we value most. It was hard because as a competitive person, a rebel and as a go-getter, I felt obliged to take up such challenges, to pursue what others told me I couldn’t do, and so I did.

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Of course, there were moments when I made decisions right there and then, and never looked back because I know those were what I wanted all along. I’d charge on regardless of the obstacles ahead.

Then, there were times when I was unsure and indecisive, and I ended up making (some huge) mistakes which I’d never forget over my lifetime; like how I sacrificed four years in a company that didn’t even care about my career progression because it was well-paid. I was in the same position, taking the same salary for 3.5 years and it was my longest employment to date. It took me two years to finally decide it was the last straw and time to make the grand exit. That was when my career took flight and I realized how much more I could have gained had I left earlier.

The direction and decisions we take

Precisely because we are humans who will err, and we all want to avoid making expensive mistakes, it is so vital that we know who we are and what matters to us so that when we are presented with options, we are clear about the direction and decisions we’ll make.

So what happens when our stable life gets rocky with changes around us, most times beyond our control?

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It’s common to expect changes, but what if we come across big changes that require us to make choices that will affect us in ways we might never imagine? Having to leave a place we call home? Changing our environment or even profession?  Having to let go of what matter so much to us?

What if you are a free soul and you suddenly have to enter a situation where you’d be tied down for life? What if your life goal is to travel the world but you tend to get bogged down by commitments after commitments? What if your aim was to start your dream career but you need to stay in the job that you hate to pay your bills? What if you have your months / years / life all planned out and things take quite a turn, forcing you to change your priorities or even let go of your dreams for now?

In such situations, we often feel a sense of loss; loss of direction, loss of sense of belonging, loss of something that we held on to for so long. When you are clear about who you are, and what are important to you, it makes your situation more manageable and decisions simpler.

Understand who you are

Are you someone who prefers stability or likes a good challenge? Are you patient or fickle-minded? Do you value quality or aesthetic? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What sort of character and personality do you have? Are you practical or idealistic? Do you tend to sit on the fence or stand firm on your point of view? Are you strong-willed or easy-going?

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The little-known facts about you matter because often times when we choose to ignore who we are and choose something we’re not, or try to become someone we’re not, we become unhappy and disgruntled in our earlier decisions.

Find out what matters to you 

Do you carry any life principles that you’d never bend backward on regardless of what situations you come across? What do you value? Friendships? Morality? Integrity? Family? Loyalty? Knowledge?

These will help you weigh the pros and cons of your decisions in the majority of the tough situations you will come across.

If you have the opportunity to relocate overseas for work but you are a family person, how do you decide when you value both family and career? Which matters more to you?

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Pick up lessons learned from tough experiences

Changes and adversities can build or break a person, depending on how we respond. How do we see the light in dark times? What can we learn from tough situations? How do we make decisions that are best for us, even with much uncertainties and insecurities?

Stagnant and stable times may be good, but they cause us to be complacent. We fall into routines that we do almost on autopilot mode, yet nothing ever seems to change or improve. Choices allow us the opportunity to do something different, or even start afresh.

We actually learn more about ourselves from these difficult experiences. We pick up on how we manage ourselves and our responses in difficult situations when we try to make difficult decisions. We learn how we manage emotionally, psychologically and mentally; sometimes our body react to changes in ways we don’t even know; if we are pessimistic or optimistic, how we act in situations when we need to decide, if we are one who faces the music or runs away with excuses; on our thought processes and how we weigh our options.

On top of that, we build ourselves to be stronger, wiser and more resilient for the future.

Look forward, always

Although we may not want to welcome big abrupt changes that can turn our lives upside down, when they happen, they happen. No matter how grim a situation looks like now, there is always a silver lining at the end.
Old times may be good or even great but they are over. We can only look forward with confidence and positive mentality. We can choose to complain and live in the good old times but we can also choose to look forward to better days ahead. Have an open mindset and be willing to explore try out new things even if they feel challenging at first.
Appreciate what you had before but look towards the future with anticipation and excitement. Integrate what you have gained or learned before into what you’re going into moving forward. Our priorities change at different points in our lives. However hard it may be to accept, it is a fact. If we choose to ignore making decisions, we might end up in places where we don’t want to be in the first place, making it even tougher to get out.
Our goals may get postponed as our paths get diverted with changes and decisions to make, but when we are clear about what we want and who we are, we will still reach the destination we aim for eventually. In the meantime, what we can do is to enjoy the ride.

Featured photo credit: Hermanne Allan Poe via magickfromscratch.files.wordpress.com

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

How to Self-Taught Effectively

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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