We live the decisions we make
Ever so often, we hear people trying to make decisions and revising them time and again. Decision making is generally preceded by confusion, anxiety and also, in some cases, utter chaos. Some decisions are made, especially in the Indian scenario, the one I am most familiar with, with the entire family at large. Be it something as small as which tutorial the kid is going to, which car to buy, what colour to paint the walls, or even what to cook tonight!
Then again, in this whole gamut of things the accountability of a decision lies with one person. This is more so when the decisions are not about the trivialities of life, like which clothes to wear or where to go for dinner. I am, here, referring to decisions relating to careers, education, business and other such matters—decisions that impact a lot of our lives and do so in the long term.
What is a decision?
By definition it means: “to make a judgment or determine a preference; come to a conclusion”. This essentially means that one has X number of options and is going to choose from that. Sometimes the number X is large, sometimes it is just one. The former is where the confusion generally tends to linger. So how does one decide? How does one know if the decision is right? The “what ifs…” can be unnerving and drive one up the wall.
In my view, a decision is based on the knowledge one has. And thus emerges the term “make a well-informed decision”. Let us take an example here of a person travelling from place A, say Bangalore, to place B, say New Delhi. Now the options one has would be to take a flight, take the train, drive down, and maybe even take a bus. In a normal scenario, one would also consider factors such as the budget and amount of time available for the trip, the convenience of travel, etc. The knowledge I mentioned would be basic information such as how long the flight will take, how much it will cost and how long it will take to reach the destination. All of this, once known, helps one decide what the best option is for him/her. Then of course, there are other details such as which airline one would fly, or whether one would fly first class or economy. Again, this would be based on the comfort level one seeks and how much he/she is willing to spend on it. Ditto for train or bus or a car.
Now consider what would happen if the person did not know the details of travel. He/she may just choose to fly New Delhi-Bangalore via New York, which happens to be a path routed halfway around the world, to get to a place barely 3 hours away. Technically, it is possible. It’d just cost 10X the amount of money and probably 20X the time! I know this may sound ridiculous to you if you know where Bangalore and New Delhi are located (In case you don’t know, they are in the south and north of India, respectively, about 1500km apart). Consider travelling from Melbourne to Sydney via London, if you are more familiar with those cities. I mention this for a reason, and you’ll know why as you continue reading the article.
How many people do we know who’d just go to the airport, have a look at the flights available, choose the best decision possible and take off? Not too many, is my guess. And if you do know of someone, there is a good chance that person has just way too much money and time to spare. Considering I don’t belong to that league, not yet at least, I shall not comment on that. Most individuals, when travelling, would first choose their destination, study the options available for getting there, for boarding and lodging, entertainment, as well as the weather at the time of the visit. Isn’t that true?
The big Q of life
Yet somehow I don’t see the same meticulous approach being applied to the way a lot of people plan out their careers, for instance. Most kids I speak to today, be it in higher secondary school or in college will answer, “What do you want to do in life?” with a “I want to do an MBA!”. (Of course not just MBA— I also get engineering or life sciences or something even fancier for an answer; I’m just taking on the wannabe-MBA clan for now—no offense guys, you are a smart bunch!) The look on their face is generally that of a person expecting “oh wow!” for an answer.
To my surprise, they also get that reaction more often than not. I decided to be a little more inquisitive and asked “But why do you want to do an MBA?” “To get a good job” is a ready answer shot right back at me! “Ok,” I say to them and myself, and probe a little more, “What kind of a job do you want?” They will then rattle away names of some 5 MNCs, some fancy designations. Then my next question, and I love this one, is “But why would you want to do that?” Out comes a whole list of reasons, sometimes not as confidently as I got the earlier replies, including but not limited to—I love the field, I want to express my creativity, I want to excel in life, it pays really well, I think I’m good at it, it sounds challenging—every answer is very generic. Upon dwelling on the topic further, most people realize they are not even sure what they eventually want to be in life and why they’d want or not want to be a certain way.
Given this scenario, it is barely surprising that decision making is difficult. Decisions are left for later. “We’ll see what happens then” is a brave attitude to carry, though not necessarily the smartest one. Like in the case of a traveler, if he missed his flight to Bangalore, he’d still have a destination and plenty of other options to choose from in terms of getting there. Imagine someone who had a ticket to Bangalore, missed his flight and is now wondering where to go. Now you may wonder what this has to do with decision making, but I believe it is entirely related to the topic. When you have a set goal, it is far simpler to make decisions. Only with a goal do facts and figures make any sense. Every decision one makes is then based on “Will this take me closer to where I want to get, or otherwise?” It becomes easier to say yes and to say no.
“Is it the right decision or not?”
My own little experience says only time will tell how good or bad a decision is. And how that time goes by is in one’s own hands! If one chose to go into business as an entrepreneur and did really well, it was a good decision. If he came out a loser, maybe the decision wasn’t that great. Maybe the person didn’t make the right decisions as an entrepreneur. Whichever way one looks at it, it is the decision that one made. If I decided to work with a certain client and he caused my company to go bankrupt, it still remains my decision that I chose to work with the guy and let him ruin me. So I am responsible for what happened to me on the onus of my own decision.
A goal, of course, can be anything at all. It may be “I want to eat a burger today”, for all you care! But since you know it’s got to be a burger, you can look up the yellow pages, take references of restaurants from friends, read reviews on the internet, reach your nearest outlet and eventually get your burger. Ditto, for buying something, meeting someone, doing anything at all! If you know exactly what you want to use/do it for, you’d be able to decide better. If you want to buy a car to show it off, get a nice bling machine. Who cares if it barely has any go or guzzles gas—the point is it should look good because it’s meant for you to show off. If you want a car to get you from point A to point B and do so in some basic style, then you’d probably choose a different car from the one I mentioned earlier. You can take up as many instances as you like, and be it a right or a wrong, it will boil down to a few decisions. The point is whether one has the courage to accept it that way. A decision is never just one decision. Its implementation brings about many more situations that call for decision making, like a heading and a subheading.
It sounds like a lot of work, making oh-so-many decisions, every step of the way, but I’ve learnt otherwise. One makes many decisions almost without thinking. And it is, of course, nice that way. Then again, it is worth a relook at times. I’m not always a firm believer of if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it. I like doing my own little upgrades from time to time. Interestingly, I found my answer to “Why do we need to study history in school” in this theory. The idea is for us to know our past and make informed decisions. The manner in which we Indians are taught history, or anything else for that matter, is again debatable but that’s not important here.
Life, as we have it, has options for us every step of the way. We are the ones who choose, who decide and live those decisions. In a nutshell, get the facts right, understand the options, weigh them against the resources available/affordable and evaluate them with respect to the goal. Once you do all of these, you’ll find out it actually is as simple as it sounds! The more important matter then becomes to implement that decision well and make the most of it!