A Few Tips for Making Hard Choices

This is the time of year when people start asking me about how we decided to make the transition from home school to the traditional classroom. I started to tap out an answer, but then I realized that these ideas can be applied to lots of important decisions. Here is my advice:

First, figure out exactly what your main goal is.  Seems obvious, but when we're making momentous decisions, we usually have more than one reason for wanting to lean one way -- and more than one reason for fearing that choice, too. So narrow it down, as succinctly as you can, to the one main thing you want to achieve, and be honest about the best possible way to achieve that. Then figure out what your second-most important goal is, and be honest about the best possible way to achieve that

Maybe this will clarify things for you, and you will realize, "Well, I really do care about my pet ocelots more than anything else in the whole wide world, and I don't care what my landlord says. My choice is clear, I'm moving into my parents' dumpster!" But maybe you're still not sure if you are ready to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve your main goal.  If so, are you sure it's all or nothing?  If you chose one over the other, can you compromise, and borrow some benefits of the thing you chose against?  Once you have figured out your primary, secondary, and tertiary goals, it may be easier to see how you can be creative, and maybe cobble together something that isn't perfect, but does a pretty good job.

Remember that any choice brings some loss with it.  There's no one choice that will give you everything you could possibly desire, even if they're all good things. Saying "yes" to one good thing means saying "no" to some other good things, so don't paint a melodramatic picture of some wonderland you're leaving behind when you choose to settle in New Jersey. There are plenty of good things about New Jersey, and, if you're going to be honest, there were plenty of slums in Wonderland. That's just how life is, and recognizing this inevitability can make the choice more palatable. 

Relatedly, remember that it's easy to imagine all the bad things that might happen, but harder to predict all the good things that could arise. Most of the good things in my life are not only better than I could have expected, but are completely unexpected. 

Remember the kale rule: even the most nutritious vegetable in the world doesn't do a body any good if they refuse to swallow it. Eh, right? I can offer the same nutritionally miraculous superfood to my kids over and over and over again, but if they really, really don't like it, then they're really, really not going to eat it, and it is therefore not nutritious food anymore when it is in our house. It is expensive compost that I wasted time cooking. If it doesn't work for your situation, then it doesn't work, no matter how many other people are deriving splendid, life-changing benefits from it.

Lots of people call this attitude a cop-out; and you can certainly play it that way. "Doing laundry just doesn't work for our family! So I'm dressing them all in disposable plastic bags I stole from the A&P." But also consider that you are in a better position than anyone else to know whether something could work if you tried a little harder, or just plain won't work without shredding your psyche. So don't fall for the idea that harder is, by definition, better. Not all the saints were martyrs. Again, remind yourself what your main goal is, and figure out just how badly you want to achieve that one goal.

Listen to the advice of people who love you. If you are a chronic second-guesser, listening only to yourself is a full-time job, because you think this, then you think that, then you think you're fooling youself by allowing yourself to think that you ever really believed the thing you used to think, and so on. Self-doubt can actually be a subtle form of pride: you're convinced that you have to figure out the problem, you have to be honest with yourself, you have to ferret out the truth. Instead, just lay it down, and make a conscious decision to turn the question over to someone you trust, even if you're not at all sure that the other person understands every last tiny ramification of the choice. Take a load off and see what happens.

Pray about it, a lot. But, at least if you're like me, you shouldn't expect to hear the voice of an angel spelling things out for you in a way you can't possibly misunderstand. Maybe you will get some clarity; but maybe what you'll get is the strength and courage to follow through on the decision that you made by using the brain and the insight that God gave you. God is smart enough to make good things come out of any kind of decision you make, especially if you involve Him when you're still thinking it through.