When Friends and Family Boycott Your Life (or Are You Making Stupid Decisions?)

A couple weeks ago, my brother and I threw a party to celebrate our return from Thailand. A family member didn’t show up because she was boycotting the irresponsible way we spent our money (on Thailand, rather than my brother going to another semester of college) and because she was upset that my brother is starting a catering company rather than becoming a computer scientist. Getting a job as a programmer, after all, is the MUCH safer (and, statistically, more lucrative) route.

Personally, I think she didn’t show up because of the gasoline-smelling durian candy we served (but that’s a theory I won’t delve into).

The thing is this person avoided our party out of love. To make a statement that she cares about my brother and wants the best for him. To clearly let him know that he is wasting his life. In her mind, it was a loving, kind act. Much like an intervention for a friend hooked on drugs. To pretend to support my brother in his crazy traveling, catering endeavor would be a betrayal when she knows my brother is clearing taking the wrong path. This woman is accomplished, intelligent, logical and usually makes very prudent decisions.

Still, my brother has decided to follow his passion for cooking.

What to Follow?

God’s Will vs. Family vs. Religious Leaders vs. Intuition vs. Logic vs. The Herd vs. Your Friends vs. Trained Professionals…

Seriously. Why is it so effing hard to make the “right” decision? And why are there so many conflicting voices inside and outside of my head?

About two years ago I became obsessed with the topic of decision-making. I studied everything from a 10-hour audio book written by a Christian minister that promised to teach you the exact steps to tap into God’s will to the best-rated scientific books about how the synapses fire when we are thinking fast or slow to books written by mystic gurus about how to follow your spirit guides to books about being creatures of habit.

Some experts say that your initial gut reaction is the way to go. Studies, however, have proven that intuition doesn’t work… well… not always… but, then sometimes it does under specific conditions. Logic doesn’t always work either. Neither does consulting friends or professionals. Some of the most profound decisions in history were made out of luck, stupidity, arrogance, rebellion or desperation. Recently, I read a book by neuroscientist Sam Harris which confidently states “free will” is a myth. We are all victims of circumstance.

It’s so confusing.

Yesterday I went to a Buddhist meditation class and the woman teaching the class said the mind and brain are two separate things. And that the real, authentic mind is located in the heart chakra. Everything in your head is just confusing delusions.

True direction, according to her, comes from the subtle winds that can only be felt when we are asleep and barely conscious. Meditation is an attempt to tap into those subtle inner winds at least for a small moment.

So, that’s one theory: we have to reach enlightenment to discern where these subtle inner winds are pushing us.

But, what about in the meantime? Am I destined to make poor decisions based on luck, childhood programming or peer pressure until I reach enlightenment?

There are some big decisions coming up! Who to marry (again… because I apparently haven’t figured that one out). What career to pursue. Whether or not to have kids. Where to live. Who to be friends with. What religious leaders to follow…

What if I screw it all up?

How to Make the “Right” Decision

After years of research, meditation, classes, asking the advice of professionals and non-professionals, here’s what I’ve come up with:

Decision-Making Observation 1: To make the “right” decision, you have to come to the realization that there are no “right” decisions. There’s no black and white. What looks like disaster can quickly turn into the best experience of your life. (And vice versa.) If you go into every decision point with the idea that you have won if you learn something, then you’ll always be okay.

Decision-Making Observation 2: If it isn’t working out, you can always change course. A big problem is that people get locked into their choices for whatever reason (they are embarrassed to look too incongruent, they want acceptance, they’ve spent too much money or time and feel like changing would waste it all, etc.). If things aren’t working out the way you expected, try to gain some perspective by backing up and thinking, “Am I happy with this decision? Does this get me where I want? If I had to do it all over again, would I?” If the answer is “no,” time to re-evaluate.

Decision-Making Observation 3: Mark Twain said, “It is easier to stay out than to get out.” Although you can always change your course and make another decision, some decisions lock you down pretty hard. If you are uncertain about something and there are major long-term downsides, it’s probably not the best choice. Not getting married to someone you are leery about is easier than divorce. Not having casual, unprotected sex is easier than taking care of a kid for 18 years. Not declaring a major that you hate just to please your parents is easier than re-going back to school and earning another major in your thirties or being stuck in a career you loathe.

Decision-Making Observation 4: There is a difference between long-term and short-term joy. When you face a decision, try to determine if it feels good for the long-term. Many decisions are made for short-term gratification but are destructive in the long-term (i.e. to avoid immediate conflict, to have fun in the moment, to get someone’s approval). If you know you will feel icky later on, then try to avoid it.

Decision-Making Observation 5: You are not your parents, brother, friend, therapist. Their ideal path could be a nightmare for you. Listen to them, know that they love you, take whatever advice feels right and leave the rest behind.

Decision-Making Observation 6: It’s hard to make decisions if you don’t know what you stand for. What is your list of absolute no’s? What are your boundaries? What is your personal mission statement? Are you moving towards the kind of person you want to be or away from it? (Click here to learn about personal mission statements.)

Decision-Making Observation 7: If you are stressed out, under pressure or recovering from a trauma, try not to make big decisions (like quitting your job). If you do have to make a big decision, understand that your brain is functioning differently. A study conducted by Mara Mather of the University of Southern California discovered that we are much more likely to view things in a positive light when we are under stress. So, you’ll be more focused on the positive outcomes of a decision and could fail to properly evaluate the negatives.

Decision-Making Observation 8: Avoid what scares you in a bad way. Pursue what scares you in a good way. Change is scary. It’s much easier to sit on the couch and think about your new business idea than it is to set up the business. If you never made decisions that scared you, you’d be a sad, unadventurous couch potato. Or, you’d end up as many people do, which is to be a reactor. They react to whatever happens to them, but don’t proactively pursue anything. If a decision makes you feel less powerful, contracted and afraid, avoid it. If a decision, however, makes you feel giddy, expansive and terrified all at the same time, go for it (within reason, of course). Have you always wanted to travel to Cambodia? Have you always wanted to try out for Cupcake Wars? Have you been dreaming about starting a business selling used bike parts? Go for it! Especially if it scares you a little.

Your small seemingly-insignificant choices make up your minutes, hours, days, weeks and years. How you drive your life will determine who you become. And even if someone you love boycotts your choices, you—and you alone—have to live with the consequences of those decisions.

All my love,

Laura

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Showing 2 comments
  • Matt
    Reply

    I love that you tackle worthwhile topics and try to be genuine in what you write, Laura. Bravo. Your article made me think that life is a bit like a terrarium: at one end you can lounge in the light of “absolute” certainty and at the other extreme you have the cold comfort of embracing the uncertainty of reality. (Or the reality of uncertainty, whatever.) Between those poles we all gradually find the place where we can be more or less comfortable–though I wonder if anyone can be completely comfortable, since even the “absoluters” have to deal with the occasional niggling reminders of how thin and incomplete their answers are. For some, the mental gymnastics required to preserve a sense of certainty are more uncomfortable than the distresses of not knowing which your article illustrates well. I agree that there are no “right” answers, no “correct” spot in the terrarium. But I do feel like I’ve been given a gift when someone opens up and shares how they came to their own position, and how it’s working out for them. So thank you, and keep it up.

    • Laura Roser
      Reply

      Thank you Matt! You bring up a very interesting point about the “absoluters.” My father is an engineer… so, I know exactly what you mean about people needing to feel like they have the “right,” science-based, mathematical answer. I remember him explaining to me his crisis of faith when he learned in college that light travels in waves and particles, but you couldn’t predict which one. Thinking about the randomness of it about drove him nuts. He has since learned how to deal with a bit of uncertainty :)

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