The 7 Stages of Big Decision Making
March Madness has hit…but not the madness you may think. I’m talking about the epic transitions that happen during the spring. The acceptance to college or graduate school, the realization that you’re graduating and moving on, or the random job offer that comes out of the blue. The birds are chirping, our clocks have sprung forward, and you are being asked to make a HUGE decision.
After careful consideration and cultivation of advice I’ve received after several cross-country moves, I present to you “The 7 Stages of Big Decision Making.”
Stage 1: The Opportunity
Every big decision made begins with an opportunity. These present themselves in many ways both big and small and your job is to be ready for them. I’ve made a number of big decisions in the last six years and they have come in the following forms:
- A well researched and years long decision to pursue graduate school
- An e-mail requesting an interview without a job description or details
- A moment of kismet where I found the perfect job when I wasn’t ready for it
- Straight up asking for it
Sometimes we feel ready. We’ve prepared for it, we’ve researched it, and we knew it was coming. Other times, it was thrust upon us in the most unexpected way. The first stage is accepting that this is ahead of you. No matter how far-fetched or logical…this is for you. And you’re going for it.
Stage 2: Complete Panic
This is the moment in the Big Decision making process where your chest gets a little tight, sweat starts forming on your brow, and panic sets in. Much like when you realized at the age of 32 that you like Justin Bieber, you start having thoughts of doubt about yourself and your life.
Thoughts form as:
- There is no way that I can do this
- This doesn’t work in with my current life plan
- What was I thinking?
- This is crazy…I can’t [fill in the blank here]
- How do I love every song on this album even though he seems like he’s the WORST?
- What about my dog/cat/fish, how would I ever move with them?
- Can I even afford this?
- Is this the right move for me?
I haven’t met a person yet who has skipped this stage. It’s important and healthy for us to reflect on what we have, what we want, and how we are going to get there. This panic is just your brain helping you reflect on the new and exciting life that lays ahead of you.
Stage 3: Dreaming
DREAM BIG!!! This is the stage in the decision making process where your heart sings and all of your hopes are possible. You take the time to daydream about what could be. Imagine your life on the beach with all your new friends, impressing your new boss, becoming best friends with your favorite celebrity, answering all of your professor’s questions in your classes, making tons of money and being happy forever. Whatever your dream is, this is the part in the decision making where you embrace those dreams as your potential future. We are living in a Taylor Swift song…one of the happy ones. Enjoy!
Stage 4: Just Wanting To Know
Waiting. Is. The. Worst.
At some point in the process, you just want to know. Am I getting a new job or not? Am I going to grad school or not? Am I pulling off leggings as pants or not? You keep telling yourself to be patient, practicing the new mantra you learned by Googling “mantra” and trying not to think about it. But it is ALL you can think about.
The easiest way to get through this stage is to keep yourself busy and positive. Find your happiness and cling to it with all of your might. Spend time with your friends, enjoy the positive parts of your job, and go about your life as best you can. If this doesn’t pan out, it’s the same life you’ll keep living, so why stop now? You will have the answer soon enough, but this stage is about surviving the wait. You can do it!
Stage 5: The Plan
Opportunity presents itself and low and behold…you GOT IT!! CONGRATULATIONS! OMG! THIS IS CRAZY! I CANNOT BELIEVE IT! YOU ARE AWESOME!!!
Now, we move on to the plan. You must make a plan. You have to have a plan. Plan to have a plan. Even if you’re not a “plan” kind of person, it would be hard to resist the urge at this point in the process. Who do I know that has done what I’m about to do? What resources can I find? How quickly can I get to Target to buy cute planning stuff to plan?!!?!
My advice at this stage is to take a deep breath, utilize your networks, connections and resources, and resist the urge to spend money on anything until you have the whole picture. Buying a completely new wardrobe for the new weather, an entire apartment of furniture for an apartment that doesn’t exists yet, or spending a ton of cash planning your epic goodbye/hello parties would be a mistake. You’ll be getting a lot of information, and it’s always better to wait, get your info and make a realistic plan. Sorry for more waiting, but it will be worth it.
Stage 6: What Have I Done?! (or Complete Panic: The Sequel)
You’ve made the decision, you’ve made a plan and now it’s time to freak out again (see Stage 2). This stage has the slight twist of you having actually taken steps towards something. Your thoughts this time include, but are not limited to:
- What was I thinking?
- My roommate already found a new person to live with, how do I sabotage this so I don’t have to leave?
- I immediately regret this decision
- You’re telling me I have to spend how much on books to go back to school?!
- Why did I quit my job? Can I get it back?
- Why did I ever think I was talented enough to open for Kanye? Why did he pick me?! I’m not even that good at playing the harmonica!
The imposter syndrome will work on you HARD in this stage. Your brain will tell you that you are not ready for this, but you need to ignore it. Take a deep breath, get some fresh air and sunshine, and get back to your plan. You are moving forward with your life in a new, exciting and scary way. Don’t be afraid. Embrace it. You’ve worked really hard for this, you’ve thought through it all in the complete panic stage, you’ve seen the possibilities in your dream stage, and you have a plan. Just keep remembering that it will all be OK. Even better, it will be great!
Stage 7: The Reality
When my cousin came to my sister and asked advice about how to handle moving to a pig farm, my sister said, “You can do anything for a year.” Even though that advice wasn’t for me, I think about it all the time when something big presents itself. A year can seem like forever, but look at your Facebook Memories, or go back 52 weeks on your Instagram. Doesn’t that feel like yesterday? That’s the great part about opportunity and time. For better or worse, this year will fly by for you. Ultimately, you will realize that it was worth it, either because your dreams have all come true or because you understand now that becoming the next American Idol just isn’t in your future. Regardless, you will never have to look back and wonder “what if…” You said yes, you panicked, you made a plan, you did it for a year, and you survived.
I’m so proud of you!