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Making Choices Can Make You Happy at Work

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This week I was speaking to a colleague who has made a significant life choice in respect to her job: she's following a new path and will take a brief sabbatical before venturing in a new direction.

It's actually an old direction: she's going back to the work she loves. She's been working for years at a very lucrative job, but it's not the work that she aspired to many years ago.

"You can't imagine how relieved I felt when I resigned," she said. "I thought I would feel a little scared as I don't have a new job yet, but I have only been happy since I resigned."

"Did it take you a long time to decide to do this?" I asked.

"Yes, several months. When the idea first popped into my head, I didn't take it seriously. Over time, I realized I had a choice to make and I had to make it now."

This conversation reminded me of how I felt six years ago when I left my job. I was exhausted, and overwhelmed every day. Simple day-to-day activities seemed to take Herculean effort. But once I had made the decision to leave my job -- once I had made a choice -- I felt better, even though I didn't have a new job in the pipeline.

I am a big fan of making a decision, even if it's difficult. It was great to be reminded that choosing is better than waiting. Very few decisions improve by waiting. Now, this doesn't mean that you shouldn't take the time that you need to carefully consider important life decisions. But once you've done this, I have found that waiting to decide something is never helpful. I think that people wait on big decisions because they're afraid of making a bad decision. Years ago, I gave myself permission to accept that not every decision I made would be a good one. I believe that you make the best decision you can at the time, with the information you have. If, later, you get new information that changes your decision, then change your decision. I can't emphasize this enough: don't beat yourself up for the earlier decision. You made the best decision you could at the time, with the information you had.

This is also true at work. I often see people who are reluctant to make decisions at work; they worry that they will make a wrong decision and that their decision could negatively impact the company. I see folks paralyzed by the decision in front them and it's painful to watch. You know these people are unhappy as they wrestle with what to do. I always wish I could offer them a free "do-over" card to ease their fear of the impending decision. I once had a colleague, Fred, who shared with me his liberating philosophy of making decisions: "Denice, if the problem could be solved by analysis, then the company would not need me to make decisions. Adding data does not necessarily add insight." Fred continued,

At the end of the day, it comes down to my judgment, and my judgment comes from my years of experience. Sure, I have made some bone-headed decisions in the past. But, when I knew more, I made better decisions. I always would rather make a choice, than to sit and wait for the answer to magically appear before me.

Decisions are about choices and I have learned that making a decision can make you happy. This is a great choice.