There are moments in life when we’re forced to make a tough decision which will change the course of our lives forever. Mine happened not too long ago. I’ve been toying with the idea of entering the academic world for a while and at some point half-heartedly applied to a doctoral program at my dream university, convinced that I don’t really stand a chance. When the selection committee communicated their decision, I was shocked - I got in!
But once the euphoria wore off, my mind was flooded with self-doubt and fear. Was it really worth it to pause my career and jump into the seat of a PhD student? Wasn’t the world of academia an extremely tough and overcrowded job market? Would I be good enough to finish my thesis on time? I never expected to be accepted into the program and these circumstances led me to a truly life-changing decision. Here’s what I learned about making difficult decisions in the process.
- Paralyzing fear is a normal reaction, but it needs to be addressed
I was struggling with choosing whether to enter the program or not because I was simply afraid. I feared failure - and this fear paralyzed me. I was scared of what was going to happen after I made my decision, so I procrastinated as much as I could. But the deadline was getting closer and I wasn't anywhere near to making my decision.
I reached out to the professor who agreed to be my supervisor and admitted I was having second thoughts. He told me that I’m not the first doctoral candidate to feel like this and that if I let fear take the decision for me, I’m never going to be happy - no matter what I choose!
While being afraid of the unknown is normal, this fear needs to be addressed - preferably by someone with plenty of life experience who will shake us to see past our fears.
- Decide for yourself, not for others
We often find that making a tough decision often involves other people’s advice and agendas which manage to influence the process. When facing a tough choice, we should take the interest of others into account, but we should never sacrifice our needs to please the other person.
I was worried about how my choice will affect the relationship with my partner - for a while I evaded the question altogether. But then I saw his full support and it made me realize I was really lucky to have someone like him by my side. I learned that sometimes it’s best to confront others with our choices instead of worrying over their potential reactions.
- Having too much information can hurt the decision-making process
We tend to believe that more information leads to better decisions. The truth is that sometimes information can actually hurt the decision-making process. Once we pass a threshold of too much information, we’ll enter into a state I like to call analysis paralysis.
We start to fill in gaps and add information that isn’t important - human minds cannot stand uncertainty, so when we miss information, we automatically tend to ascribe a greater value to it. You can only imagine what crazy research fit I went through before I realized that I’m not helping myself make the decision.
- Developing a plan B is key to survival
Making a tough decision leads to other things happening in our lives - and we should be ready to deal with them at the moment of deciding. Before I made my decision, I carefully assessed how my choice will affect different areas of my life and prepared myself for hard work ahead. With the help of my supervisor, I developed a plan B as well - by focusing on teaching, I could open up a host of future opportunities for furthering my career.
- No matter what, listen to your heart
I learned that decisions that don’t resonate deeply in our hearts aren’t worth making. Put everything aside and listen to your instinct - ask yourself whether this is something you really want and if it’s something that feels just right. If it does, you’ll know what to do.
After much deliberation, I simply went for it and made my decision. Weighing risks against benefits, I chose to enter into graduate school - and today I’m really happy I was courageous enough to do it.
This episode in my life taught me that we all have the strength required for making difficult decisions.
Contributed by http://www.careerfaqs.com.au/