When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that is in itself a choice – William James
The other day, I walked away from what seemed like the perfect job opportunity. And sighed a huge sigh of relief. You see, I took ownership of my future instead of waiting to see if they would make an offer I couldn’t refuse.
The Back Story
On paper, there seemed to be a perfect fit between my academic expertise and the job. Plus it was at an elite university in my home state of California. The Skype interview with the committee members seemed to go well. I made it to the final round: a seven-hour on-campus interview (which is normal for academic jobs).
By the end of lunch, I was pretty sure that I didn’t want to the job. But because it had seemed like a perfect match at the beginning and I knew others would think I was crazy for walking away from it, I held onto the idea that maybe my feelings were a result of jet lag or exhaustion.
I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why, but my intuition was telling me to run. I really, truly, didn’t want the job but figured if they gave me an amazing offer, I’d accept it.
Except the feeling of dread didn’t go away. And, so, after yet another conversation with The Mister about it, we agreed that I would withdraw my application before they even made an offer.
Being an Active Choice Maker is Empowering
Being an active choice maker is not about making rash and spur of the moment decisions. Although there may be times when we have to make quick decisions, if we are in the habit of being an active choice maker, then we can feel more confident about our ability to make those quick choices.
In truth, being an active choice maker is about taking ownership of our choices–even if they turn out to be wrong–instead of wringing our hands and whining that we “had no choice but to do ____ or to go along with everyone else.” (I am hearing my mother’s voice saying, “If everyone decided to jump off a bridge, would you that, too?”).
Being a passive choice maker is disempowering and soul sucking. How can we feel confident when we are constantly being buffeted about by other people’s choices?
Even when we feel “trapped,” we can make active and empowering choices. In the book Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America, Laura Shapiro notes that “the trapped housewife was very much a media invention (232).” Not that there weren’t women who were bored stiff. But the successful homemakers made choices to ensure they were intellectually and creatively stimulated in addition to their homemaking responsibilities. Indeed, in 1960 about 40% of middle class women with school-aged children were working outside of the home.
It Always Comes Down to Values
In the end, my decision to walk away from a seemingly perfect job opportunity came down to a difference in core beliefs and values between the people I would work for and myself. Based upon previous experience, I recognized the signs that the things that are important to me would be diminished, if not silenced, if I took the job.
Active Choice Maker Strategies
Did I make the right decision? I will never know for sure. Heck! I will never even know if they would have offered the job to me! But I feel empowered by my decision. Here are some strategies to help you be an active choice maker:
- Look at the entire forest instead of just the trees. Sometimes we get stuck in looking at the immediate decision in front of us. Instead, we need to also look at how the choice will make an impact in the greater scheme of things.
- Be true to values. Values matter. When we ignore our values, we live lives of regret.
- Keep past experiences in mind. We can learn from our own or others’ mistakes or celebrations.
- Be alert to warning signals. Psychologists are learning more and more about how the gut is a critical part of the mind. If our gut is telling us something is amiss, it is worth exploring the situation further.
- Know what you know and don’t know. As crazy as it sounds in this age of Facebook arguments, we need to be open to the idea that we don’t know everything. We can seek out the advice of trusted friends and mentors. We can do more research until we can make “educated guesses.”
- Be detached from the outcome. While I was disappointed that this job didn’t work out, my saving grace was that I focused on being zen-like regarding the outcome. It enabled me to remove my emotions from the process so that I could listen to my inner voice while remaining objective. If I hadn’t been detached, I probably would have accepted the job if they offered it to me.
- Own the decision. Once we make the choice, we have to move forward. Even if it turns out to be a mistake. We can’t live in the past, only the future.
We Always Have Options
Eons ago, psychologist David Schnarch coined the term “two-choice dilemma.” Basically, he says that we always have choices. And if we say we don’t have a choice, what we’re really saying is that we don’t like the options being given to us. That is okay. But we have to choose one and then make the best of it. It may be scary at the time but it is the only way we can live empowered lives.
I’ve as yet to hear from the person who would have been my boss. I know he received my letter because he cancelled a phone call with one of my references. His silence reinforces for me that I probably made the right decision.
I should also note that I feel blessed that I was able to walk away from this job opportunity because I already have a good job where I enjoy the respect of my colleagues. Four years ago when The Mister’s business was collapsing, though, I would have had to take any job that was offered to me.
How about you? Have you ever let someone else make a big decision for you and realized that it was a huge mistake? Have you gone against what seemed like the “perfect” choice and discovered later that you would have been miserable if you had gone with the “perfect” choice?
Here’s to the fabulous Technicolor life of your own choosing!
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