Decisions, Decisions

When I did one of my first college internships, I worked with a man who had a poster over his desk that showed a person sitting on a rock looking into the ocean, with a quotation in the lower corner: “No one can share the weight of the decisions you make.”

Every moment of life involves decisions, and the art of decision-making can only come from the very core of what you hold dear and who you are.

Being all of about 20 back then, I considered the decisions I had to make. They were fairly limited. Something like, “Do I want to play racquet ball after work or go swimming?” The fellow who sat at that desk had a family though. He was older and had different decisions to make. As we worked together, I often found those decisions put us in different places. He refused to miss anything like his daughter’s school play or an opportunity to meet his wife for lunch.

Across the hall was another worker who attended every conference and seminar available, who came in early and left late most days. He rarely stopped for lunch and had a Rolodex full of contacts and associates. He too had a family but their activities were very independent. When time allowed, he stopped by their games on the way home from whatever meeting he had to attend. Don’t get me wrong, he was a good provider and a solid father, but he had made different decisions about what was important.

Learning To Decide

Probably greater than any skill one can learn or develop is the art of making decisions. It starts at an early age. The decisions you make as you begin to toddle include whether or not you can get up on that tall step. You are at first reckless. You have not learned to identify risk so you attempt most anything. You leap off the couch, you fall down the steps when you try coming down, you burn your hand on things that are hot.

But slowly, logic comes into play and things like gravity start to become clear. From that point forward, you begin to back off and consider risk, the main component of decision-making.

As you grow, it is the risk that changes form. You go from risk of personal injury to risk of embarrassment to risk of reputation. It is the avoidance of that embarrassment that becomes the main driver in decision-making. I am not talking about simply being embarrassed by making a mistake, like the embarrassment of being second-guessed because you didn’t catch on quickly enough or didn’t handle something the right way. Now here’s something important. When someone makes a decision and performs a task that goes badly and is even met with hostility, sometimes the decision maker is prone to lie about his responsibility for the decision. I give you the two boys standing outside the broken window pointing at each other, telling the homeowner holding the baseball, “He did it.”

The Cookie Jar

Watch this scenario play out. For example, let’s say it’s 40 years ago, and a seven-year-old named Ron, on his way into the cookie jar, drops the glass lid and it breaks in two pieces. Well, if this kid who might one day be a future writer and purchasing manager, carefully put the pieces back, the next person into the cookie jar would think he perhaps broke it, and Ron would be off the hook. However, if Ron was a notorious storyteller, his mother would immediately figure out he was lying and he had made a rather immoral decision about covering it up. That lesson might carry into life later, and this fine, respected young man might now be first to take the blame for something going wrong because his decision tree proved the results of being deceptive.

When I set out to write this essay, I thought I would tackle the subject in a scientific way, but the truth is, decision-making is an art and the way it is handled by each individual becomes a personal primer for what to do when confronted with a similar problem.

Learning By Example

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