How many times have you stressed over deciding between two close options? I’m not talking about deciding where to dine, or which show to binge after dinner, or which shirt to wear to the office.
I’m talking about the more difficult, life-altering decisions. The ones where choices come with a one-way pass — once you walk through that door, there’s no coming back. The door gets slammed on your way out.
If two companies offer to hire you, should you choose the firm that pays more, or one that provides a better office culture, or one that’s closer to your home, or one where you find a better fit? If you look at it, this decision alone will affect years, if not decades, of your life and the lives of your close ones.
Likewise, when choosing between grad schools, should you go for a school that provides you a better scholarship, or one that has a better rank, or one that has resources more relevant to your interests? Again, this decision will shape every aspect of your life, both present and subsequent.
It’s Never a Good vs. Bad Scenario
Choosing between a good option and a bad one is easy — just don’t do the bad one. But life doesn’t work like that for most of us. Instead, it involves comparing the good parts in choice A (say salary) with the good parts in choice B (say proximity to home). Situations go way more complex than this.
In the study field of Optimization, problems of this nature are called Multi-parametric optimization problems. The rule states that you arrive at a globally optimal solution by trading off gains in some metrics for gains in other metrics. Basically, lose something to get something.
While this optimization works well in theory, it’s not designed to work well in life even if we try to. For it to work well, you need access to a high quantity and quality of information. Let’s look at an example.
Say you have to choose between two options: One that ticks the metrics A, B, and C; and the other that fulfills the metrics X, Y, and Z.
The quality of your decision-making process will be affected by —
- Your existing level of self-awareness of your capabilities and ambition
- Your personal priority order — what’s more important for you in the short-term/long-term, what’s less important, etc.
- The interference of personal bias in evaluating and comparing options
- The overall access you have to tangible knowledge to properly evaluate choices. This knowledge could be in the form of proper mentorship, connections in the industry, or simply blogs on the internet.
It is a process filled with haze and doubt, and rationality is thrown crashing out of the window. Because no matter how much information you have, your choice of being right would be no better than the flip of a coin.
All odds are stacked in favor of making an incorrect, or sub-optimal decision.
Taking More, Smaller “Leaps” of Faith
Surrounded by such haze, it’s tempting to believe that since choice-making is rarely a rational process — your life ends up being largely dependent on luck. If you make a wrong choice, you can potentially end up with the wrong job, a wrong partner, wrong friends, etc.
In “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”, Miles Morales was struggling to embrace his powers. Devasted, he asked Peter Parker a question —
Miles: “When will I know I’m ready?”
Peter: “You won’t. It’s a leap of faith.
That’s all it is, Miles — a leap of faith.”
You are never sure, never ready. But you take a leap of faith.
We can never fully anticipate how good or bad a decision will turn out to be, no matter how hard we try. We can optimize the heck out of this multi-parametric equation of choice — but we’ll never really know the answer.
So, are we screwed? Are our lives purely a matter of luck? I don’t think so.
The good thing is — In real life, a single decision will never determine the outcomes in your life.
Peter Bregman, the best-selling author of “18 minutes”, was stressing before his TED Talk — in fear that he’ll mess it all up. He eventually got into his senses and realized that he’ll do fine, if not great. He recalled —
“Life is a process and while one stellar moment — be it a success or a failure — can make a difference, it’s far more likely that the steady production of many adequate performances over a significant period will make a much bigger difference.”
So what does this all mean? I think it simply means that while our life will end up being a function of leaps of faith, it doesn’t necessarily have to mean that we are at the mercy of our luck.
That’s because we never take a single leap of faith, we take thousands of different leaps. We take a leap every day we wake up. The leap to show up at work. The leap to do one more pushup. The leap of giving Mom a call. And when we do those consistently, every single day, we make a difference.
A single decision — like choosing a job in company A over B, selecting grad school X over Y, sending your kid to school E over F — matter monumentally less than you think it does.
A single leap of faith can change the specifics, but not the generality.
A Single Decision Only Changes The Specifics
We get lost in the specifics, but the specifics don’t matter.
Joining a business, converting a cold lead, choosing who to be friends with — these decisions change the specific opportunities you get, and the specific people you meet.
Going with another choice will only take you through a similar generality, just different specifics.
What really matters is the action of showing up every day. Repeat it for a decade, and your professional life would be successful anywhere.
If your life was good in environment A, it will be good in environment B. If it sucked in environment A, it will suck in environment B. Your exact friends, network, and partner will be different — but your life overall will be similar in these 2 different scenarios.
If you wish to start your own business, you will find an opportunity in any environment. Here again, the specifics might change — your business partner, the problem you work on, or the final product you make. Your odds of success might differ too, but if you persist enough, you will find success anywhere.
I’ve had to make decisions in life which I expected would alter my life completely. I thought my life depended on making the right choice.
However, as I look back across those years, I can see that my life hardly ever changed in a day, due to any single decision.
It was always the daily grind that brought in any meaningful change. How I reacted to the outcomes that happened to me, mattered more.
Interestingly, it’s quite similar to trading. You make losses on some trades, and gains on some. But as long as, you follow the right fundamentals and have a high EV (Expected Value), you’ll do fine in the longer-run.
“Make a decision and then make it right. There just are no wrong decisions.” — Abraham Hicks
- A single outcome won’t change anything: Take things lightly. Your life will never change in a day — no matter how big a step or decision might seem.
- We can’t really predict — it’s a leap of faith: You can’t anticipate how good or bad a choice is. No effort will make the process completely rational. In the end, it will be a leap of faith.
- The good thing is that we take multiple leaps of faith in our lives: What you do every day will decide if the choice was the right one or not. A successful job, partnership, marriage, life, etc. What you do every day, every single minute will determine where you’ll be 10 years from now on.
And that’s a wonderful thing. It makes the world a better, and fair place.