Life at Work

Dare to Decide

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 7, 2006

Most days, we walk through life in the same way. We wake up surrounded by the same walls, pass the same landmarks on the way to work, the same work we've done for . . . forever?

It's comfortable. It's us.

And then, we're faced with a decision. A life-changing decision. Go back to work after the baby? Take that job offer? Go to law school? Change careers altogether? Retire?

Okay, I admit it. This is a major issue at The Washington Post right now. Early-retirement buyouts are on everyone's mind. But my cube-neighbors aren't the only ones facing a life-changing decision. Each week, I receive dozens of questions from people asking me to choose for them: Should I stay or go? Should I take the promotion, even if it means I have to uproot my family?

I wish there were a simple way to make these decisions. But in most cases, even my weekly chat can't do that for you.

However, we can shed some light: How have others made their huge decisions? Did these practices work for them?

A few of my colleagues are taking the advice of another co-worker. Years ago, she had to decide between remaining a reporter or going to law school.

She had about two months to decide, so every day at the same time, she would draw a smiley face on her calendar if she wanted to stay at that moment, a frown if she wanted to go. The rules: She could not be undecided or neutral during face-drawing time. And she could not keep a running tally of the results. At the end, when she added them up, she was surprised how clear the answer was. (As I mentioned, she is still a co-worker of mine.)

Others tell me their decisions were made when they looked at the worst-case scenario of each alternative. Then they decided which worst case was the best option.

As an executive coach, Kim Lysik Di Santi doles out this advice every week: Assume that whatever decision you make turns out to be the wrong one, then figure out which wrong decision you could best handle.

She speaks from personal experience. Years ago, Di Santi had a nice job in Bellingham, Wash., but was offered an opportunity in New York City.

Which would have been worse: to stay in Bellingham and wonder what if? Or to go to New York and fail? She chose New York. "What would I regret 10 to 15 years from now?" she said. Di Santi, founder and president of Total Strategy in Reston. realized that if the New York job were "just devastation all around, it would be easier to pick up the pieces in New York and move on."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company