Making Life Changing Decisions
Sooner or later, we all have to make life changing decisions. They might be decisions about a very wide range of things, but they all share one thing in common. They are decisions with the potential to change our experience of living.
Many potentially life changing decisions are about relationships, e.g. “Should I marry X? or “Should I get divorced?” Many are about career, e.g., “Should I study to be an engineer?” or “Should I stay in this job?” Some are about the stage of life we’re in, e.g., “What are my priorities now that I’m at mid-life?” or “Should we have children?” or “What do I want to do with my life, now that I’m retiring?” And there are many other kinds of potentially life changing decisions.
Often the need to make a potentially life changing decision or decisions can be a source of great anxiety. It may well be that it feels risky or insecure to make a life changing decision. This can often lead us to avoid or procrastinate, rather than looking at the situation in our lives squarely, and then deciding what to do. How can we face the decisions that we have to make, and really come to terms with them?
Knowing a Life Changing Decision When We See One
Sometimes, we have to go through quite a process before we accept that a decision of major importance has to be made. We may live with a situation for many years, and then find one day that it is confronting us in ways that we simply can’t afford to ignore.
How do we know when we’re confronting a life changing or “big” decision? In some ways, it’s fairly straightforward, as UTS Prof. Adrian Camilleri states:
A “big” decision is one in which you intentionally [make] a choice between two or more options knowing that the outcome would have a significant and often long-term impact for yourself or others.
On an intellectual, thinking level, this is fairly straightforward. What makes things difficult, though, is that life changing decisions often have a huge emotional charge on them. For this reason, it’s important to accept that making a big or life changing decision can be genuinely hard. If at all possible, we have to be kind to ourselves and give this kind of decision the time and attention that it deserves. We want to
Stuck and Unstuck
Often, we have to self-compassionately acknowledge that there is part of us that would rather not have to make a life changing decision! This can be about inertia, or emotional denial. It can also be about a part of ourselves that might like to not have to choose, and would prefer to keep all the options on the table—forever—having our cake and eating it, too.
This last attitude may be related to an important part of ourselves that Jungian case studies is particularly aware of: the shadow. The shadow is essentially that in ourselves that we would simply prefer not to acknowledge. It has attitudes, and often wants things that the ego, the major conscious part of our personality, feels are completely unacceptable. To finally reach a real choice in a life changing decision might well require that we look at and acknowledge how the shadow part of ourselves really feels about it. Bringing that awareness into consciousness, admitting all that we really feel, may be a major piece of psychological work.
Choosing to Make a Decision
Sometimes, it can be hard to face our need to make a decision. We can procrastinate and distract ourselves, which may feel better in the short run. But it doesn’t really help us in the longer run if there is a decision that has to be made, for our well-being, or the well-being of those near to us. Also, in lots of situations, as Paul Tillich stated, “not to decide is to decide”—if we don’t consciously make a decision, it often amounts to stumbling into one fateful course or another. It’s often much better to embrace the need to make a decision.
Often, case studies can be of a great deal of help when we have to make life changing decisions, and Jungian /a-midlife-transition can be particularly helpful in supporting individuals through a decision-making process. It can be of great value to have a skilled and supportive case studies / analyst who can assist us with extending compassion to ourselves as we grapple with our choices, and simultaneously assist us with staying honest and accountable to ourselves. The choices that we make in matters involving life changing decisions can form the backbone of our journey to wholeness.
With every good wish for your personal journey,