Make Decisions Before You Have To

Photo by Artem Kniaz

The fastest route to get to my home from my office includes a difficult left turn out of the parking lot.

If I manage to maneuver across the two lanes of oncoming traffic, cross over the busy turn lane in the middle, and then successfully merge into one of the far lanes full of speeding cars, I can shave a solid eight minutes from my commute.

Fastest, but not the safest.

Alternatively, I can take the much easier right turn, go around a city block (complete with multiple stop lights and bumper-to-bumper traffic), and eventually make my way to the same place the left turn would have taken me.

For the first month I waited patiently at the edge of the lot, looking for an opening before darting across the road. Despite being on high alert-owing to the difficulty of the turn-there were still multiple close calls. I found myself worrying about the turn the moment I walked out of my office.

Eventually I made a decision: I would commit to always taking the far safer right turn no matter how light traffic was.

The result has been a stress-free parking lot exit every time and far fewer brushes with death.

Ari Weinzweig likes to tell the story of the time a Disney World executive called to gauge his interest in bringing his iconic Zingerman’s delicatessen to the world-famous theme park. There was a new initiative underway that would bring versions of the best and most famous restaurants from across the country to Disney World and the man on the phone needed to know if Ari wanted in.

Ari had no interest, which shocked the Disney executive.

Partnering with Disney meant millions of dollars, guaranteed. Didn’t Ari want to at least think on it for a few days? Or talk it over with the rest of his team?

Ari didn’t have to. Nothing against Disney, but years earlier he and his team had written a vision for the Zingerman’s community of businesses that included these words:

All 12–18 unique, food-related businesses are located in the Ann Arbor area.

Before hanging up, he did leave the door open for a Disney-Zingerman’s partnership, if only slightly:

“If you ever decide to open a Disney World in Ann Arbor, Michigan, we’d love to be a part of it.”

A friend has decided she no longer wants to work in restaurants.

She’s a world-class server, but she wants more structure and less reliance on the tips of finicky customers. She wants to start building a career with more options. She wants her feet to hurt less.

Her reasons for wanting to leave the restaurant industry are her own and are less important. What is important is that she’s made this decision and done so with conviction.

And yet, when faced with the overwhelming proposition of finding work that gives her purpose and fulfillment, she finds herself wavering. When staring at job boards littered with posts for amazing positions with seemingly insurmountable experience requirements, she is tempted to call up her old boss and see if any shifts are available. Just this once, just for a few bucks. . .

It’s agonizing, and she wants to know how to make it less so.

Of course, it’s never easy. If it’s easy, it isn’t really a decision.

There will always be a temptation to backtrack on tough decisions.

There are plenty of days where the left turn looks pretty doable. Zingerman’s is very successful, but saying no to millions is never easy. Having a real conversation with an actual human at that company you’ve always wanted to work for is harder than just continuing to do that unfulfilling job you already know how to do.

The thing about difficult decisions though, is that making them over and over again only compounds the difficulty.

Instead, make decisions once, before you even have to. That way, when the difficult situations arise and temptation rears its ugly head, you can rely on the fact that you made your decision for a reason. You did it so the future version of yourself would have a better [career, business, marriage, life].

Don’t you owe it to your current self to stick with that decision?

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Talent Strategy @Mailchimp. Previously HR @KingOfPops. Get my “52 Books to Boost Your Career” reading list here

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