“She’s not the one.”
A group of friends and I are sitting around a kitchen counter having drinks. You know how conversations get when the liquor gets flowing a bit. The truth comes out.
We got on the subject of relationships. I’m newly divorced. One of the women is a month removed from her husband essentially ghosting the entire marriage out of nowhere. Another woman caught her fiancee cheating, so she’s now alone also.
My friend who uttered the sentence above has been with his girlfriend for six years now. Engagement is on the horizon. We’ve had several conversations about their relationship. The underlying tone has always been something along the lines of “she’s not the one,” and I could tell the tone because it was the same tone I had when people asked me similar questions.
I can’t speak for the two women who mentioned their relationship woes, but I definitely went into my engagement knowing I didn’t want to be married — maybe they had signs, too.
Inevitably, for me, things fell apart. Bad decisions usually come back to haunt you.
Relationships are a great microcosm for the idea of making tough decisions — cutting the cord on something you know isn’t working, making a choice that causes major short term pain but long term happiness, choosing the right fork in the road.
But it’s hard. Often, when it comes to the tough choice, we make the wrong choice.
How do you make a long-term decision that’s not only bad for you but bad for everyone involved?
Fear, specifically fear fostered from societal pressure. My ex and I had a child out of wedlock. You don’t have to be married to be a good parent. And, logically, you shouldn’t get married to someone you…don’t want to marry
But the minute the announcement was made, pressure came from all corners — little innuendos and not so subtle hints at family gatherings, the constant questions, back, and forths, you know the deal. Again, I’m the one to blame here. All of the pressure was well-meaning. And I was in love, too. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t all bad.
But the minute words like “should” “supposed to” “ought to” etc pop into your head, that’s all the information you need to know.
When social pressure drives your decision, you’re making the wrong decision.
Ultimately the road leads back to your original decision anyway.
Either things fall apart or you’re stuck in a miserable situation.
Rarely, if ever, do you make a decision based on social pressure that works out.
Anytime you “cave” you do it because you don’t trust yourself. You don’t trust yourself to be able to rely on yourself, to be alone, to face disapproval, to dust yourself off and live your life even after you’ve wasted time.
The funny thing? When you’re forced into a situation that makes you rely on yourself, often you’ll figure it out.
I found myself alone, the fate I tried to avoid by diving into more co-dependency. I didn’t fix things overnight, but now? I’m doing great. Not only that, but out of the ashes of a bad situation came brand new and better ones.
Odds are you have some tough decisions in your life you’re avoiding. You won’t make them because, deep down, you have that caveman brain that thinks you’re going to die alone in the wilderness if you face a little social rejection.
Can I guarantee you’ll be fine? Hell no. Don’t get me wrong, things could continue to go south for you. I don’t know your situation. I will tell you that you’re probably capable of dealing with the fall out though.
Again, these types of decisions are highly personal and I’d never tell you specifically what to do. Only you know that. But, if you have a decision on your plate that might require you to reboot your life in certain areas, contemplate deeply what it would be like to face and handle that situation.
Picture it fully in HD.
Could you survive?
Could you bounce back and thrive?
Ultimately, would you be okay?
Of course, when it comes to big decisions, they’re never solely about you.
Your decisions affect those around you. In my case, my decision involved my child. On the one hand, I’m sure that having two parents in the home would be better for her in a certain sense, but also, growing up in a toxic environment isn’t good for her either.
Again, I can’t tell you exactly what to do, but always consider the fall out of your decision from a long-term perspective.
Will everyone adjust long term?
Will everyone be better off long term?
My job decision impacted the company I worked for. I was a key employee they planned on having in a key role for a while. My departure meant a short term shift in a negative direction. But, what good was I to them being half-way committed?
Often, when we make decisions “for other people” they can create a net negative benefit for them. Also, making a decision “for other people” can simply be you making a decision out of fear and using other people to hide behind.
You say you’re choosing a job you hate to provide stability and security for your family, but starting a business you love could potentially create ten times the security and provide generational wealth. My parents have been separated since I was twelve and they’re still not divorced.
They have some co-mingled assets and whatnot, but they kept trying to tell my brother and me they were staying legally married for us. The thing is, we were fine with them being separated. They were projecting onto us.
You project onto other people all the time.
The pit of projection and rationalization runs deep. You have to fight really hard to take an objective look at your life. Understand that your decisions cause collateral damage either way.
You’re almost always better off taking care of yourself first. You’re almost always better off putting yourself first.
This selfish approach often works better than martyrdom or sinking time and effort into a situation that’s not working.
First off, people don’t appreciate you for sinking time and effort into something that isn’t working. They start to resent you for it. If you don’t know how to put yourself first in your life, career, relationships, anything, you fail to form healthy boundaries.
Boundaries, based often on the decision to say “no” are better for not only you but the people you say no to. See, deep down, people want you to have boundaries. They don’t want to take advantage of you or get into a co-dependent situation with you. But, if you allow this to happen, human nature kicks in and you’ll inevitably go into a downward spiral.
Making a bad decision and continuing to commit to it just make things worse.
In poker, there’s something called “going on tilt.” When you’re on tilt, you lose a couple of hands in a row. You should either walk away from the table or stop betting aggressively, but you do the opposite. You keep doubling down on your investment until you end up with no chips.
The same thing happens to pour more into bad decisions. You experience psychological pain when you “walk away from the table” because you know you wasted time investing in a stupid decision. You don’t want to face the stupidity of the time investment and just start over, but that’s the smart thing to do. And like I said before, you could be forced into that situation anyway, akin to “losing all your chips.”
As bad as it hurts, having your hand forced can be one of the best lessons you’ll ever learn in your life. After moments like that, you can learn to put yourself first, work on yourself more, and start making better decisions by using certain frameworks, like…
Derek Sivers came up with this decision-making framework:
Use this rule if you’re often over-committed or too scattered.
If you’re not saying “HELL YEAH!” about something, say “no”.
When deciding whether to do something, if you feel anything less than “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!” — then say “no.”
When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to really throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say “HELL YEAH!”
Every event you get invited to. Every request to start a new project. If you’re not saying “HELL YEAH!” about it, say “no.”
We’re all busy. We’ve all taken on too much. Saying yes to less is the way out.
Pretty good verbatim advice.
Some people go as far as keeping a decision journal where they analyze why they make the decisions they make. Then, they go back and look at their past decisions to see how well they worked out.
In general, when you’re making decisions, especially tough ones, ask yourself why you’re leaning toward a certain choice?
Is it out of guilt? Do you feel like you have to say yes because you owe someone something?
Are you afraid of alienation for saying no? Remember, you can probably handle it.
Are you making this decision because you trust yourself, or because you don’t?
Would the truly actualized and brutally self-aware version of yourself make this decision? Why or why not?
Each decision, or series of decisions, you make usually comes back around if you wait long enough.
One of my favorite ones…you don’t get out of shape by eating a single cheeseburger. If you did, you wouldn’t eat them. But, slowly or surely, if you eat enough of them, your decision will come back to haunt you.
From more (seemingly) benign decisions like what you eat to major decisions like what job or partner to choose, always think of your future self.
Thinking about the future is difficult.
And the future is also unpredictable. But making the best decision for your long-term self that you could think of at the time is the best you can do. As best as you can, do it.
Have you ever had your parents reveal more of their life to you as they get older? Mine have.
My dad had a stroke recently. Still don’t know if he’ll fully recover. We talked about the decisions he made, many out of the misguided reasons I mentioned above, and I could see it in his eyes — how his current situation has made him deeply rethink everything that’s happened.
My mom, who did the “right things” — went to college, went corporate, towed the company line, etc. admitted to me that she felt a little underwhelmed by doing the right thing like she was promised something that never delivered.
I think about their situations a lot. I think about situations like the story I opened the post with. Looking back at all the decisions I’ve made that led to where I am, I put a heavy focus, not on being perfect, but simply putting as much thought and care into my decisions as possible.
Sure, luck and circumstances impact your life, but, ultimately, you become your decisions.