On Your Mission… To Make Difficult Decisions

by Tim Rinaldi
4 min read

When you need to make a major decision, do you follow a defined process, or do you tend to rush it?

Do you ever struggle with experiencing regret after making these types of decisions?

At a young age, I decided I wanted to become a doctor. My dad was an oncologist, and it was common for strangers to recognize my last name and tell me that he had saved their family members’ lives – I wanted to have that same impact on others. So, I worked hard and succeeded throughout high school and college, and after getting a great score on the MCAT, I attended Baylor College of Medicine. Each step along the way seemingly affirmed my career decision, and I was on my way to saving people’s lives!

But soon after getting married during my third year of school, we found out my wife, Emily, was pregnant, and for the first time, I questioned this career path. It wasn’t just the stress that every other student experienced; it almost brought out the worst in me. I resented other students who seemed to have it easier, and I looked for opportunities to criticize the curriculum. That negativity only hindered my success in school. After a lot of reflection, I decided to leave medical school.

I don’t have any regrets about this decision, but if I could do it over, I would apply a much better process to how I made it. At the time, I spent significant time praying and reflecting about it and discussing it with my wife. Then, I told my family, friends, and classmates about my decision, but I didn’t seek their input. It felt like the right decision, so I made it without looking back. And considering how much time I had spent working towards becoming a doctor, it was a quick decision. 

Now, I follow a much more defined process to make major decisions. I learned this process from the mistakes I made while working through the decision to leave medical school. I hope these steps will help you in your career:

1- Determine when a decision needs to be made – if it’s not urgent, don’t make it urgent. My desire to take action has often been a strength, but when it came to making the major decision to leave medical school, it was a weakness. I should have allowed myself more time, even if it felt like a state of limbo while considering my options. 

2- Reflect on your values and what’s most important that you get out of the decision. If you’re considering a new career path, this could be the potential salary, job security, flexibility, learning opportunity, or many other factors. 

3- Research the alternative options as much as possible. Don’t just focus on the next step, but what is likely to happen after that? How does each potential path uphold your values in the short and long term?  

4- Seek as much relevant input as possible. You should seek guidance from people who know you at your best, but also understand what you may struggle with (both in making the decision and with its outcomes). You should also consult people who have done one or both options – why should you or shouldn’t you do it, too?

5- Reflect on what you’ve learned. How might your biases be at play (and the biases of the people you received input from)? What assumptions are you making? Can you learn more to eliminate these assumptions, and can you ensure these biases aren’t misleading you? Commit the necessary time to reflect on everything (and pray about it if that’s important to you). 

6- When you are ready to make a decision, ask yourself one last question – what if you’re wrong? If your chosen path isn’t what you expect, how negative will the consequences be? Can you treat it as a learning opportunity and then find a new path, or will the time have been completely wasted or even damaging?

7- Then be at peace with your decision and act. If you’ve followed a thoughtful process, there is no reason for regret when you experience any bumps in the road; in fact you should expect them and be ready for them.

Finally, I recommend watching Adam Grant’s TED Talk, “What frogs in hot water can teach us about thinking again.” He discussed the importance of rethinking, or questioning our previous decisions, goals, and even our identities. He explained, “We live in a world that mistakes confidence for competence, that pressures us to favor the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt, that accuses people who change their minds of flip-flopping, when in fact, they might be learning.”

Sometimes, making difficult decisions requires acknowledging that we had been wrong. Rethinking is not easy. But once we do, and we carefully determine what values should guide our decision and consider our options, we’ll be positioned to make the best decision at that time and then take action. 

How have you made major decisions in the past, and what can you learn from them to improve your process moving forward? How will this impact your career?

How can I get better?

My mission is to impact as many people as I can from what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown in my career. If you have any feedback on how I can do that better (about my writing style, other books/articles/videos I should check out, etc.), I’d love to hear it!

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