Heidi Isern

writer. thinker. whiskey drinker.

Overcoming Decision Paralysis

We are all products of the choices we have made.  Perhaps this is why I have a difficult time making them.  I am a true maximizer in every definition of the word, always seeking to carve out the best possible outcome for myself.  If my choices dictate who I am, then I want to ensure I am the luxury version, not some cobbled together knock off product.

I collect data, I conduct polls, and I do dream analysis to ensure I’ll always have the most information to choose wisely.

This approach, of course, has its downside.  I annoy friends and strangers by pulling them into my chaotic internal debate on how to best improve myself, when in many cases I’d improve myself by polling less and deciding quicker.


“Do I want the chicken or the pasta on today’s flight?“ I nudged my seatmate while flying.


“Shall I take a startup job or stay in Corporate America?” I polled the other guests at a friend’s wedding.  I was delaying making a decision, fearful of it being the wrong one.


“Sure, you can postpone a decision…but in doing so you are actually making one,” said my mother.  She wasn’t referring to my menu ordering skills on United, she was referring to job offers.


“But I am waiting for it to feel right.” I argued.  All of these entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley had told me I would see a sign, feel an impulse, or hear Faith Popcorn’s prediction in my dreams.  “My gut will know,” I assured her.


“So you are just going to sit around until your gut tells you to make a decision?  You could still be sitting there cramping with indigestion at age 60.  Just make move.”


Another friend told me, “Pick one with potential…try your best, and if it doesn’t work out the other will be there.  It’s a decision, not a marriage.”


However I think decision making DOES indeed apply to dating and marriage.


There is one recurrent phrase on family phone calls, “Heidi, just please CHOOSE someone!”


After a few exasperated comments the rational explanation comes, “It isn’t so much whom you choose but how you will grow together with them.”


I told this to my collection of 30 something single friends and they all said, “Yes, but we’ve waited this long to choose…so now it has to be perfect.  We cannot settle at this age!”  Will this quest for the elusive perfection result in us still chasing dreams well into our 40 somethings?


I was worried that our dating styles had resembled eating at a buffet. Before committing to one dish we all had wanted to sample as many varieties as possible.  How else would we know what we liked best?  Italian Sausage or Mexican Enchiladas? However, that approach never really led to one satisfying favorite, but rather an upset stomach.  If I keep that up I’ll end up with no meal but rather a large bottle of pepto bismol as my soul mate.


Someone who has been married for 3 years told me, “At the beginning I wasn’t so sure she was the one.  However I was sick of dating around and decided to stick it out.  What do you know, I fell in love…and eventually proposed.”


This is a far cry from the type of romance found in “The Prince’s Bride,” and certainly doesn’t seem very appealing to a maximizer who wants to fall into a fiery flames of passion at the first kiss.  However, he wasn’t the only one that felt the best passion came after committing.


“I wasn’t that into him at first…he didn’t have everything on my ‘list’”, admitted a girlfriend.  “But I gave it a shot and now it’s fantastic.  Every day I am more and more in love.  Who wants to start the relationship at the top of passion?  Wouldn’t you rather it keep getting better every day as opposed to worse every day?”


Perhaps this applies to a job as well.  We should see the future potential, make a decision, and commit ourselves to making it work.  After all, many people get their dream jobs by creating it while they are already there.


Now, feeling less scared of making the “wrong choice,” I feel better about turning down opportunities and saying yes to others. Perhaps the ‘best choice’ will end up being the one I stick with.


Someone wise once told me, “It isn’t that the grass is greener on ‘the other side’-it’s that the grass is greener on the side where you decide to water.”

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