A framework for tough decisions

As I mentioned in a previous post, I love Tina Seelig’s book, What I wish I knew when I was 20. One of my favorite stories from the book centers around a student that approached her with a tough decision. The student was running a business idea challenge and one of the groups didn’t show for the final presentation/competition – the group had failed to notice that the time and location had been changed. To make matters more complicated, the prize was meaningful and the teams had been working on the project for an entire semester. The student leader had to decide, “do I let the group make up the final presentation or not?”

So what did Tina tell the student? Rather than telling him directly what he should do, she gave him something much more valuable – a framework for making these tough decisions in the future. She told this student the following:

“Image you are in an interview two years from now. The interviewer asks you to describe a time where you faced a difficult decision and how you responded. Your response to this situation is the answer to this question.”

WOW…this totally changed the problem. The student now saw himself as a central character in a bigger narrative and he had the chance to impact the outcome of the story. He could now step back and say, “is this the story I want to tell?”

In the end, the student decided to let the team compete and credited Tina’s guidance with helping him make the best decision.

So how does this relate to you? Are you facing a tough work situation, where you don’t see a way out? Are you on a dysfunctional team, working through corporate bureaucracy, or in a difficult class. Rather than think about this as a setback, view this an opportunity. Two years from now you can describe how you succeeded despite the challenges. (Note: I am not saying that you should stay in every job, project, etc, leaving might be an equally compelling interview response about being perceptive about knowing when to move on.)

I have found Tina’s framework extremely helpful. If your switching costs are low and you have lots of options, the temptation to avoid a challenge is real (i.e. you could drop a physics class and take “Intro to running” instead). Try to view your decisions through the lens of the future to put perspective around difficult decisions.



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