Choose Your Own Adventure (Before It Chooses You)

A few days ago I wrote a quick piece about Keeping Focus in My Forties. At the risk of accidentally becoming Medium’s resident expert on the slow but steady decline from your forties into your fifties, I am going to write another piece related to age.

I am a full-time freelance graphic designer and have been out on my own now for over 15 years. I don’t claim to be a great business person (because I’m not) or a great success (because I’m not). That said, I am happy that I’ve been able to carve out my own place in the world. On top of that, I know that being in business for 15 years is something to be proud of.

I wasn’t joking or being false-modest when I said that I’m no great success. My goal wasn’t to get rich or build an empire or anything like that. I just wanted to do good work, work with people I liked and pay my bills on time. And for the most part, that’s what I’ve done. So in that sense, I do feel that I’m successful.

The one business skill I’ve always felt I was best at was making decisions. I’m a big believer in the idea that “there are no wrong answers, only unanticipated consequences,” as so many of the self development books and gurus will tell you. And they’re all right.

I’ve always been able to look at what I’m facing and make a decision. Yes or no. A, B or C. Just pick your door and walk through it. If it doesn’t work out the way you want, take the new info you’ve gained and adjust your approach.

It’s a life skill I developed early, undoubtedly a result of too many hours spent reading Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid.

As the design industry has changed and as graphic design is being commoditized, I find myself having to make changes in my business. I am actually excited by this because I’ve been saying for years that I’d like to do more self-driven design. I want to create things—shirts, stationery, etc.—and sell them. I want to be my own client for a change.

And this is a really great time for that sort of thing because there are unlimited options available for producing and selling great design.

Did you say unlimited? Yes, and I guess I may have been exaggerating a bit, but there really are hundreds of different manufacturing and distribution options. And that’s where the problem comes in. Just looking at manufacturing alone, there are so many different options to choose from and they’re all just a little bit different.

Rationally, I know that there is not going to be one single option that fits the bill perfectly, but it is creating this logjam in my mind grapes that I can’t seem to break loose.

I can’t help but wonder if this problem making decisions is a function of my age. I don’t mean that my mind is slowing down, but am I looking at decisions as if they carry more weight now that I am getting nearer the end? When I was 30 and made a snap decision, who cares? I was only 30. There’s plenty of time to make mistakes and fix them. But at 48, there’s a lot less time to make up for bad choices.

I know that I am giving more thought to potential bad outcomes than I used to and if I had to guess, I’d guess that it’s because as you get older, your margin for error shrinks.

So what do I do? I just need to let it go quit overthinking it (another problem I didn’t have in the past) and make a few decisions. None of these decisions carries a major financial cost if they don’t work out.

The biggest cost here isn’t financial, it’s the opportunity cost of lost time. If I pick one vendor and it goes south, it could mean losing a month while you get set up with a new vendor. But is that any worse than taking one month to make the decision?

The only bad decision is not making a decision. That’s how I’ve always done business and that’s what I’m going to do today. So I just need to pick a couple of vendors, get some samples going and move forward. So that’s what I’m going to do.

Thanks for letting me think out loud, Medium.

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