Several things happened over the weekend that made me think about dedication, motivation, and patience. I watched a TV show where one character should have walked away and didn’t, while another character walked away and shouldn’t have. I had three separate conversations where I tried very hard to help friends see all their options without influencing their decisions. I also watched The Waterboy, namely the part where Vicki Vallencourt is talking about her horoscope:
Vicki Vallencourt: [An astrologist] goes, “You’re going to be faced with a difficult decision today.” But the thing is, we’re all faced with difficult decisions every day.
Bobby: Maybe by leaving her predictions vague and generalized, there’s less of a chance of someone finding out she’s a phony.
There’s a lot of truth in that conversation. First, we do face difficult decisions each day. These decisions may or may not be related to finance. Second, a lot of advice about decision-making is vague and generalized in hopes that it will apply to a larger number of people. Personalized advice is a hot commodity these days, but it’s not always time- or cost-effective.
What happens when there IS no good advice out there for your situation? Where do you turn when you’re so frustrated, you’re ready to just give up? Maybe you have to choose between paying two equally important bills, or you need to decide whether or not to pursue a dream. The pressure of deciding what to do can be enough to drive a person crazy. All of us have breaking points – do you know yours?
A Decision Making Process
1. Determine what values are at stake.
Many dilemmas involve a conflict between two ideals or principles you believe in. For instance, a former friend used to ask to borrow money constantly. Each time, I was torn between the belief that I should help those in need and the knowledge that I was enabling her behavior. More often than not, I loaned her the money; I valued her friendship more than the concept of personal responsibility. However, eventually there was a tipping point where I had to walk away from the friendship – it had become overshadowed by the realization that she valued my wallet more than me.
2. Assess the level of risk.
There will always be situations where the risk is worth the reward. I took a huge risk by quitting my job to freelance full time, but only because I felt it would be worth it even if I had to return to a “real job” later (still crossing my fingers that I never have to do that). However, one of the first things I did was purchase private health insurance, because I’m not willing to risk my health or future insurability to save a few dollars. The amount of risk you’re willing to take depends on your values, circumstances, and past experiences – no one can answer that question but you.
3. Imagine all the potential outcomes.
If you open Door #1, what’s the worst that can happen? The best? What about the best and worst possibilities for Door #2? What is the likelihood that any of those things will happen? Sometimes thinking in extremes can help us identify our hopes and fears about a problem we’re facing. Let’s imagine you’re in a convenience store and you’re deciding whether to buy a lottery ticket.
Door #1: You buy the ticket
Best case: You win millions of dollars.
Likelihood: Probably not going to happen.
Worst case: You throw away five bucks that you could use for something more important.
Likelihood: Very good possibility.
Door #2: You walk out of the store with no ticket
Best case: You just saved five bucks.
Likelihood: Definite, unless you buy something else instead.
Worst case: The person behind you in line wins millions of dollars.
Likelihood: Probably not going to happen.
Not all situations are as black and white, but it’s much easier to see the pros and cons of a decision when you take time to think of all the possibilities. This is also a good way to exercise some impulse control.
4. Set limits.
Before you make an important decision, choose the circumstances under which you will walk away. If you agree to cover for a coworker who is having personal problems, for example, you’re making a very nice gesture. But without firm boundaries, you could end up resenting that commitment later. Instead of saying, “I’ll work your shifts anytime you need me to,” consider something like, “I can cover your shifts on Mondays or Thursdays for the next three weeks if you’re having a hard time.” By defining what you will and won’t do upfront, you’re saving yourself the guilt that can stem from escaping a bad situation.
5. When all else fails, go with your gut.
Sometimes all the thinking in the world won’t help you shake the feeling that you should take a certain action. This does NOT mean you can buy that handbag at the mall because your first thought is, YES, I need this! It’s amazing and on sale and I’m pulling out my credit card! Don’t confuse gut instinct with impulsivity. I’m talking about a true feeling, after careful deliberation, that you need to act in a particular way.
Example: I stayed married to my (now ex) husband for 3 years after he cheated. I was raised to value marriage, and I still did (even though he obviously didn’t). When I thought about the risks involved with getting divorced, it made much more sense to stay married – financially, emotionally, and spiritually. I thought about all the outcomes and it seemed that divorce would be stupid. I set limits with him regarding what behaviors I would and wouldn’t tolerate. Yet deep down, at the end of all that reasoning, I still felt that divorce was the right choice. I finally followed my gut and my only regret is taking 3 years to do it.
When Do YOU Walk Away?
No matter what you’re dealing with, personally or financially, it’s important to make your decisions carefully. As you wrestle with your choices, spend some time planning for the actions you’ll take if it doesn’t work out the way you planned.
None of us want to think we would ever walk away from our responsibilities, but sometimes it’s necessary to do so if we want to maintain our sanity. Otherwise no one would ever file for bankruptcy, lose a home to foreclosure, or leave a bad or unhealthy situation. The question is, do you know what it would take for you to take that kind of leap?
When you make decisions, do you spend time thinking about your breaking point? Do you know what it would take for you to walk away from a poor choice? Or do you say things like, “I made my bed, now I have to lie in it” to avoid admitting it’s time to give up and move on?