To Be or Not to Be (Decisive)

If you’re an optimist, you believe that as the economy heats up, your chances of getting an offer (or two) are getting better every day. It can be hard, especially after prolonged unemployment, to make an objective decision about an offer of work. Your emotional reaction, state of mind or finances, and fear of what the future will bring may all impair your ability to think clearly. It’s why smart people make decisions about medical care and legal issues before they face a life or death emergency.

Fortunately, there is help for that. Theodore Isaac Rubin, M.D., is the author of over 30 books, including Overcoming Indecisiveness; The Eight Stages of Effective Decision Making. He’s a psychiatrist has served as president of the American Institute of Psychoanalysis and has helped thousands of people overcome serious issues. He presents a great blueprint for making decisions, big and small. Here’s how he breaks the problem down.

That is the question.

Some people can’t seem to decide at all, and Rubin writes about the various tactics people use to avoid the decision or make what he calls a “pseudo decision;” one that looks like the real thing, but isn’t, because it doesn’t lead to positive action. One version of this is what Rubin calls “malignant waiting:” putting off action in the (false) hope that some outside factor will change and you will suddenly get clarity enough to decide. If every option gets the same amount of “yeah, but…” excuses with no real progress, you’re observing malignant waiting.

Other impediments to decisiveness include ambivalence, where all alternatives look equally good or equally bad. It usually means that you haven’t developed a system to properly evaluate the options. (More on that later.) Some people lurch from one alternative to another, making impulse moves based on fear, anxiety, or other negative emotions. This is a real danger for people who get a job offer after being unemployed and in desperate straits for months. They simply don’t have the ability to calmly evaluate an offer, and may jump at a job that makes them miserable.

Abdicating your decision may mean doing what Rubin calls “following,” or letting someone else decide. People often compound this problem by asking not only people important to them and affected by the outcome (like your spouse) but virtually anyone they meet. “What do YOU think I should do?” The conflicting advice will only make the choice harder; this also becomes a form of malignant waiting. The only thing that might be worse is trying all the options, and not committing to one. College students who can’t choose a major and simply take class after class without ever making progress on a degree are stuck like this. Their lack of commitment never allows them to experience what the course of study can really be like; they’re in a perpetual sampling mode, and wasting money as well as time.

The inability to make a decision can be caused by many factors, according to Rubin, including depression, a lack of confidence in your own judgment, losing touch with your emotions, not having a value system by which to judge your priorities, and perfectionism. Wishing and waiting for the perfect solution (without having to sacrifice any value) has kept plenty of people from choosing a good option that makes sense. During this recession, I have met dozens of people who have passed up good jobs in the hopes of getting their previous title, salary, or prestige back. They have chosen nothing over something.

In the next post, I’ll talk about how to create decision making infrastructure and think clearly about what you should do.

2 thoughts on “To Be or Not to Be (Decisive)

  1. Character Counts! offers a great resource to aid in the decision making process. “Making Ethical Decisions” by Michael Josephson. I teach a class around this which powerful and helps to see the importance of having a decision making process that allows you to think through and share the process with others.


  2. […] @work: a career blog A WorkSource blog about getting and keeping a job « To Be or Not to Be (Decisive) […]


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