Decisions, Decisions

I’m already giving up on my little trope to start off these things.

A part of that is, I was trying to think last night of what I wanted to write about and then started searching for some sort of stat, tweet, informative bite of information… and then I was just sorta sad about all the information that was out there. And then I was also exhausted so I passed out with my laptop open. But I digress.

But digressions are good, right? I hope so, because man… I do that a lot.

But so my point is this… I have a really hard time staying in one mode. I like to try things out. And I am really quick to go from, “hrm… I wonder if this will work…” to “nope nope nope”. Most of the time I force myself to keep going, because that’s what you’re supposed to do right? You make a decision, even something that’s minor and just for yourself, and you gotta stick to it… right?

I’m going to sit here and argue that… no, that’s not right.

Sometimes, you have to stick with a decision. I’m going to admit that upfront. But, it’s more interesting to think about the fact that decisions are moments in time. So, for instance, with this blog I made three decisions: don’t hold back what you’re thinking, write at least 3 times a week, and come up with some sort of theme and overarching narrative reason to write.

Now, I totally understand that there are NO consequences to these decisions. Do them, don’t do them, whatever. No one is going to care but me. But I have been REALLY focused on them. And specifically the last one. I was trying to write a mission statement, create some sort of consistent thematic formula, do something to make it obvious that I’m really thinking this thing through.

But let’s be real here: I’m not thinking this through. I’m just writing what I’m thinking and feeling at the moment. Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad, maybe it’s mediocre. That’s not the point. The point was really the first two decisions: don’t hold back what you’re thinking, write at least 3 times a week.

This is an exercise for myself. If other people like it? Awesome! If people hate it, find it boring, or just aren’t interested? Awesome! It really isn’t the point.

So, this is becoming a little self indulgent, but the point is this: the decisions weren’t important. The important thing is to analyze not just that you made a decision, but what’s behind the decision? Is there something valuable there, or did you just put up an arbitrary wall?

I think that personally I tend to put up walls a lot, in order to push myself in the “right” direction. “You gotta go straight because that’s where the goal is… STOP VEERING LEFT!” But seriously, why?

It just reminds me of my first real job after college. I worked as a financial advisor in Cleveland, and wow did I hate it. The decision was based on the fact that I really enjoyed the math and logic that went into tracking how financial services worked. It was interesting. It was different. And it was a place where you could really help people while also doing well for yourself. Or so I thought.

I spent a month studying for all the licensing exams (I have a good story about that one… banking that for the future), and then started working. I thought, “this is weird, but it’ll be good”.

It ended up that my time consisted of 4 things: making cold calls (calling people who weren’t expecting or really wanting a phone call), going to malls or shows to stand at a table and try to get people to sign up to go to lunch and hear about what we had to offer, going to lunches and telling people about what we had to offer, and practicing for all of these things.

So… don’t know if you caught it… but I wanted to play with numbers, and help people. Did you see that up there? Nope. Now, I’m sure that there are financial services companies where those ARE focuses, and there probably was an opportunity to get to that point at the company I was working for… but there was a long line to get there. And it just wasn’t something I was interested or particularly good at. But I stuck with it. Because I thought, “I made this decision, I have to stick it out”.

I tried and tried and tried to make it work, but it just didn’t. And I was ok with that. Because like I said, I feel like once you make the decision you have to stick with it. But then I had a day where I took a family out to lunch, and it was the moment where I decided, “I’m done.”

This family was very eager to meet me and have a free lunch and talk about financial services. I just assumed they wanted the free lunch, because that’s usually what happened. But they really didn’t care about that. They wanted advice and help. The patriarch of the family had worked in a factory his whole life. He had a pension. He was doing ok for himself and his family. Not great, but ok. Then, he got Parkinson’s disease. When I met him, he was in a wheelchair. Clearly unable to work.

But, here’s the kicker… he was in his early 50s. And his company wouldn’t let him access his pension. He was getting some disability from the government, but it wasn’t enough. His family was selling their belongings to keep themselves afloat, but they wanted to know, could I help them to deal with the company and see if they could access the pension, because they just didn’t know enough to understand what they could do.

YES! I COULD HELP SOMEONE! I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know if there was anything that I could do. But I told them… I will do what I can. I drove frantically back to the office. I walked into my managers office and told him the story, and said, “I want to help these people, what can I do?”

His response? Nothing. You can’t make money from them. Forget it and go back to cold calling.

I still think about it. Because I was young and impressionable, but that’s no excuse for what happened next. I decided that day that I’d quit (I waited a few weeks until my commissions came through though… which might have been a good or bad choice, I still don’t know), but in retrospect, I don’t think I did the right thing in the short term or the long term.

In the short term… I did nothing. I just stopped caring about working and just half assed it, because I didn’t care about the money, I cared about doing good work. In retrospect, I wish that instead I’d called that family and said, “my boss doesn’t want me to help, so I will help you in my off hours, because your story is important to me even if I can’t benefit from it.” But honestly, I didn’t even think of that as an option. I wish I had done that, and decided that I could really help people and just start doing that full time instead. But instead I retreated and allowed myself to be defeated.

In the long term… I tried to take what I liked and move forward with it. And that kinda worked. I am now in a position where I can play with technology, numbers, visual design, team management, all sorts of things that interest and challenge me. But I think back to that family… and I’m really not doing anything to help people like them. Not that there’s anything wrong with that (thanks Seinfeld for giving me the opportunity to steal this in the wrong context), but it doesn’t mean that I don’t think about it.

Wow, that went in a weird direction. I told you digression can be good!

But the point is this… decisions are moments in time. Some decisions are important, so you make them day in and day out and always they are the same. Some though, are pliable, changeable, or can be just thrown away.

Anyway, that’s what I’m thinking about this morning. Happy Tuesday and make good choices ;)