Making Tough Decisions

Word Decision and arrows

These past few months, I have been faced with having to make some tough decisions. I have found that when making the tough decisions, I find myself overthinking, overanalyzing, and obsessing over such decisions. Although, I can’t just settle them with a coin toss either. I bet you’re feeling tired just by thinking of the last time you had to make such a decision.

Remember when you decided to take up that student loan? Or when you finally made up your mind about that career choice? That’s exactly the kind of life decisions I’m talking about.

They’re time-consuming and nerve-wrecking problems that we have to solve — one way or another. Get it right and you might open the door to a sparkling career. Get it wrong and you’ll probably end up regretting it forever, dreaming of an elusive “happily ever after”. However, people have been making tough decisions for thousands of years. Yet I think that there has to be an easier way to find the right choice. There must be some sort of method or system for making such decisions and getting them right.

Over the years, I have had to make two difficult decisions. The first was deciding where I would live, and the second being what type of career that I would pursue. I’ve had to reinvent myself over the years. I went to college to become a private practice counselor, but instead, found my greatest passion to be in writing. My hope is to write full-time someday.

5, 4, 3, … Now What?

After switching 5 jobs, 4 cities and holding 3 different careers. It was time to reflect. I took a month off and started looking for a solution.

The problem was simple: find a straightforward and bulletproof method of making decisions that lead to a happy life. Because this is my ultimate goal — to live a happy and fulfilling life. Not a wealthy, famous or successful life, but a happy one. If all the other things follow, all the better.


You see, Maslow said that people have 5 levels of basic needs:

  • Survival (air, water, food, and shelter);
  • Safety (personal and financial security, health and well-being);
  • Love/belonging (friendship, intimacy, family);
  • Esteem(respect, social status, self-confidence, competence and mastery); and
  • Self-actualization (fulfillment of ideals, passions, hobbies and dreams).

According to Maslow, if you want to live a happy life you need to work your way up the pyramid. Like playing a videogame, you first check off all the items in level 2 and then move on to level 3. This sounds like a nice little theory, but how do you use it in real life?

Making Life Happy

Using the method I found is easy: just print a copy of Maslow’s pyramid and look at it every time you have to make a big decision. Then ask yourself: will this choice move me up or down the pyramid? (Yes, you can be relegated back to level 1. There is no saved game.)

For example, let’s say you want to take up a loan to buy a Ferrari. Will this make your life happier? Is it worth it? Well, look at the pyramid. A fancy car will probably raise your self-confidence and/or social status (level 4). It may even fulfill a dream (level 5). This is great, you’ve reached the top of the pyramid! But if the monthly cost is too high it will affect your financial security (level 2) and all the other things won’t matter. You will still end up miserable and regretful.

The same method can tell you if you should take that better paying, more stressful job. Just look at the pyramid. Is your financial and personal future (level 2) secured? Will the extra money enable you to pursue some elusive dream or expensive hobby (level 5), or will it make you spend more time away from your family and friends (back to level 3)? The answer is right in front of you.

This is the basic principle of the method. But was I actually ready to base my life decisions on some crazy psychological theory? Well, after seeing everything else fail, I was.

Will it Really Work?

First, I verified the theory using existing data: I started backtracking my past decisions. Does this theory explain my choices and could it have predicted the outcomes? I find that yes, it does.

Remember when I told you how many jobs that I had went through, but I still wanted more? How I felt there must be more to life, but couldn’t really say what it was? Well, now I know: that working in counseling I had maxed out levels 1-3, but couldn’t find the entrance to level 4. Without knowing it I was striving for mastery and respect. That’s why I left.

Finishing my counseling degree enabled me to complete level 4 and also part of level 5 (dreams, passions). Sadly, after a while, it started shaking the foundation of my pyramid by affecting the second level, and since I hadn’t discovered this system of decision making, I made the same mistake a second time: picking a job with high social status and mastery (level 4 full all the way) for which I sacrificed my health and family (levels 2 and 3).

So now I could finally make sense of all the decisions of my past. It was quite the revelation (despite being naked in the bathroom) to realize how my biggest life decisions could be explained and understood by a simple system of values. All I had to do now was figure out if using thus system would work.

Finding Happiness

The next job I took is one with a high degree of security (level 2) and manageable workloads, which leave me with enough energy to spend on my family and friends (level 3). It’s also a position where I am really respected and appreciated (level 4 all the way). However, at the same time, I now have more free time to pursue other dreams and hobbies — like reading (level 5 check).

I can’t say what the future holds or for how long I will be at the top of my personal pyramid. I just know I haven’t felt this serene, happy and fulfilled in my whole life. There will probably come a point where I will have to make another life-changing decision. I’m ready to face such decisions without fear – I have a system of optimizing for happiness, and finding what is meant to be.

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