Making Decisions When You Feel Unsure
I vividly remember my dad introducing me to the Myers-Briggs type theory when I was an awkward preteen, and how it felt to suddenly see myself so clearly.
I remember pouring over the details of my personality type’s profile, and feeling totally awestruck by the accuracy of it all. This description I was reading of myself in a book I’d never heard of was articulating details about myself that I’d always known, but never been able to pinpoint. How could a stranger possibly know me so well?
I also remember feeling distinctly comforted by the idea that there were others out there like me. We were a specific ‘type’ of person, which meant I wasn’t alone! I suddenly had all these little explanations for my feelings and behaviors that I shared with others who were like me, and together they spelled out this complete, resonant picture of who I was.
I started wearing my 4-letter personality type like a little badge of honor, and felt pride as I started to understand more of why I was the way I was. If I ever felt lost or unsure, those words would ground me and remind me what kind of person I was.
But the thing about defining who we are, especially in someone else’s words, is that it can be just as limiting as it is comforting.
We are incredibly complex creatures. We’re dynamic. Unpredictable. Products of our experiences, and full of contradictions – all of which can make it feel impossible to make sense of who we are, how we feel, and what we need. It’s a lot to untangle. So it’s no mystery why it feels so satisfying to take a quick quiz or assessment to simplify it all, and get a result we can wrap our heads around. A type. A category. There’s something about it that feels clarifying, grounding, and reassuring.
But while those simplified synopses of our highly-complex wants, needs, and tendencies can offer insights into who we are, they can also confine us to a rigid definition of ourselves that leaves no room for exceptions or discovery. They can become blinders that get in the way of seeing ourselves as individuals, rather than archetypes. And when it comes time to make decisions, they can fool us into thinking our options are limited because ‘the way we are’ is predetermined, with no room to change our mind.
The truth is, Who You Are is a moving target. We will never stop evolving, and in ways that are impossible to predict.
There’s a fine line between making a commitment to know ourselves and understand our complexities, and locking ourselves into a definition of who we are without leaving any room for growth or evolution. Because no matter how much introspection and deep-digging we do in the name of self-knowledge, that picture of who we are is never static. And just like we can’t count on staying the same, there’s no way to know if, when, or in what ways we’re going to evolve down the road.
For me, knowing that I will continue to evolve and change in unpredictable ways is toughest and most frustrating when it comes to decision-making.
I’ve never been one to take decisions lightly. In fact, I’m pretty much a textbook overthinker, queen of the pro/con list and all too likely to lose sleep weighing my options when the stakes feel high.
- Should I accept promising the new job that’s a total unknown, or stay where I am where I know I’m at least tolerably happy?
- Moving to a new city scares me right now - but will I wish I’d done it 5 years from now?
- This relationship isn’t working for me now - do I bank on it getting better eventually, or do I walk away now in pursuit of something more?
Believe me when I say I know what a struggle this can be (!!) particularly as someone who desperately wants a clear picture with all the important details that I can use to make thoughtful, fully-informed decisions. When big questions are looming, I crave clarity, and it’s so tempting to refer back to those definitions of ourselves like an instruction manual for how to proceed.
But unlike our TVs and coffeemakers that come with manuals that detail all those small ways the product has changed from one version to the next, we are left in times of crisis with no manual. No crystal ball. No reliable sense of how our future self may or may not shift.
Instead, we have to anchor our decisions in an unrelenting sense of self-trust and a commitment to ongoing self-learning.
When it comes to making decisions with our future self in mind, there are no manuals or crystal balls. The best we can do is use the information we have in this moment about who we are now, and trust our future self to adapt as things change.
One of the best gifts we can give ourselves is a commitment to staying observant and receptive to all the ways we’ll inevitably change as time goes on. By committing to staying relentlessly open-minded about our own future evolution, we can start to let go of the anxiety and tension that bubble up when we try to predict the future (because we all know trying to predict the future is a losing battle anyway, right?) and instead refocus that energy on building a foundation of trust.
Trust that we have the tools and the grit to absorb and adapt to new information as we get it, and make good decisions from there. Trust that a few detours and wrong turns along the way won’t be enough to throw us hopelessly off course. Trust that we have it in us to be ok, even if we can’t know how the story ends.