There are so many options to choose from in today’s world. Have you noticed how many different Crest toothpastes there are to consider? I have been frozen in the grocery aisle when I see how many types of Cheerios I can purchase. The number of personal and professional paths the possibilities for continuing education, kinds of work, and lifestyles – all are options to consider. Each has a variety of alternatives and combinations to select. Yet, once we make our choice, often with great anxiety and concern, we spend a lot of energy and time wondering about the path not taken, second-guessing ourselves, worrying about missed chances, and dealing with guilt and regret over the options not selected.
I facilitated a discussion group entitled “Doing Less, Having More” and the recurring theme was one of ambivalence about the choices made:
- A parent regretted not traveling more for work, thinking that it would have put her in line for a promotion faster;
- A recently promoted CFO wondered if there would ever be a good time to start a family; A single manager felt that the likelihood of creating a personal life was remote since the company saw him as always available; and
- A stay-at-home parent wondered if the MBA she had worked so hard for was now just useless paper.
The theme seemed to be “buyer’s remorse.”
I remember a past car purchase I had made: my son had grown to the age where his legs were long, his friends were tall, his band practiced at a variety of homes requiring the frequent transportation of instruments and equipment and my sweet, sexy little car no longer made sense. I did the research, checked out the choices that fit the needs of my checkbook and our garage. My new car wasn’t small or all that sexy. It didn’t have a leather interior or a stick shift. It was, however, practical, affordable, had a good sized trunk and an ample back seat for long-legged teens. As I drove around, I found myself looking at all the other cars I hadn’t purchased with longing, my ambivalence top of mind.
Spending my time in regret, wondering if it had been the right decision, was a waste of energy. The choice had been made. I needed to just drive the car I bought. I had done a pretty good job of weighing the pros and cons and now needed to live (comfortably) with the choice I made and move forward.
And the folks in the discussion group did too. Could I help them focus on getting the most out of what they decided to do, rather than spend time wondering if they should be doing it?
There are things we can do to focus on both on enjoying the choices made and enhancing the selection process for the future:
Use a Map – It’s important to know where you are going, and more important to make sure that detours don’t take you too far off course. While the most direct route may not always be possible, you don’t want to travel too far away from where you hope eventually to end up. Be clear about the goal and objective.
Sports Car vs. Van – When the dream competes with the practical, create a list of objectives you are trying to accomplish with this choice. What’s the goal here? Rank your objectives and figure out how many of the highest ranking ones will be met with each choice.
Resist Back Seat Drivers – Everyone has an opinion but work on silencing the voices of others so you can know and hear your own voice. Don’t take a referendum. Select one or two people who know you well and who will provide objective and truthful advice. Ask them what they think the best choice would be for you and why, and then weigh that against your own thoughts.
Know When to Trade In – Not all choices last forever. You can buy a different car; leave a job that is no longer challenging, or return to school. When the criteria for your choice have changed, it may be time to change the solution.
Keep Your Eyes on the Road – Once you’ve made the choice, make the commitment to close the book on that particular decision. Enjoy the choice you made, and remember the reasons that made it the right choice for now.
It’s hard not to have some regrets when you have to make a choice:
- You are eager to start your own company, but are very close to being vested with your firm;
- You want to apply for the Director’s position, but the extra travel would create havoc with your family right now;
- Additional education takes time and money away from the annual family vacation;
- The position you are being offered seems like a dream come true, but the commute will be lengthy and stressful.
Whatever choice you make, if you think carefully about what is important to you, and consider both the goal and your values, there will be good reasons for the choice you make. Focus on all the reasons it is the right choice for you today. The goal is to take the option that fits best and creates the least amount of regret for as long as you will be living with it.