Say you are in the excellent position of having two job offers on the table. Both employers want to hire you, and you have to make a decision. What tools will you use to help you decide?
One job has convenience on its side: it’s located near your home, and there is flexibility regarding work hours and some openness to occasional work from home. The salary at this job is also slightly higher than the other job. The responsibilities are all in your field and you have prior experience in all the tasks you would be required to perform, so you feel quite confident that you will be successful in this role.
The second position requires more effort on your part – technically, professionally and psychologically. Technically, it’s located at a distance, and travel time will make your work day longer; they also require your full time presence at the office, since this role is more managerial in nature. Professionally, it is step into a more senior role, requiring that you develop new skills and learn on the job while taking responsibility for a team. And psychologically, you feel somewhat insecure about taking the risk of failure in a role that will be new to you in many ways.
Choosing between two good options is of course a great place to be, and there are plenty of job seekers out there who would love to be in your shoes. But that doesn’t necessarily make the decision making process any easier. Even a really positive decision like this one can be paralyzing.
Well-meaning friends, family and even professionals may advise you to make a list of pros and cons for each job, compare them, and choose the job with more pros and less cons. The problem is that life is usually more complex than that, and if the pros and cons were so clearly weighted in one direction, you would probably know it without making the lists. Besides, sometimes our decision making paralysis arises for a good reason, although we can’t always put our finger on it. In such cases even when the pros and cons are clearly weighted in one direction, we will still feel unsure about the decision.
So why do we get stuck in the limbo of analysis paralysis, and how can we emerge victorious and confident with a clear decision?
Breaking out of analysis paralysis
In his groundbreaking research on patients whose emotion centers had been damaged, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio discovered that all of his patients had one surprising thing in common: they could not make decisions: not small ones, like whether to have coffee or tea, or big ones, like whether to change jobs or get married. They could explain all the logical considerations on each side of the equation, but even in cases where logic pointed in a clear direction, they could not reach a decision. Damasio concluded that emotional engagement was an essential ingredient in the decision making process.
If this is true, it means that trying your best to be objective in your decision making process could be your undoing. All the list making and logic can actually distance you from your own emotions, and prevent you from reaching a decision. What you need to be doing is connecting to your emotions.
This is easier said than done, especially if you have been overindulging your logical and analytical powers and neglecting your feelings. However once you have the clear understanding that a decision can only be reached if you tap into your feelings, you should be able to come up with the ways that are best for you personally to make that connection.
In my work as a career coach, decision making challenges come up often. Among other techniques, one exercise I like to recommend to my clients who need to choose between two jobs is the following:
First, make sure you have the relevant information about both jobs, including what you would be doing for most of your workday, who you would be interacting with on a daily basis, and who you would report to. Also bear in mind the compensation and conditions for each job.
Then, in a comfortable and relaxed setting, close your eyes and imagine a work day at the first job. Start from leaving your home to get there, and go through the day, including the travel, the hellos at work, the work tasks, the lunch break, the social and professional interactions. Let your imagination fill in the blanks, and give as much detail to your mental experience as possible, including particulars of work tasks and of conversations, even colors and scents. Take yourself through a full day, and end your mental excursion with your arrival back home.
Take a short break and do something you enjoy, like having a coffee, watching a funny video, or listening to music.
Then, repeat the exercise, this time imagining a full day at the second job.
Take another short break, doing something you enjoy.
Now, ask yourself how you feel about the two jobs. Not what you think, how you feel. It’s a good idea to speak your feelings out loud (to yourself, a trusted friend, or coach) or to write them down. You may be surprised to discover that you actually know what you want, and deep down, you knew all along. Your intuitive knowledge was just buried under all the logical analysis.
This is of course just one exercise, and it’s not the right one for everyone; but the idea is to find a way to access your feelings and intuitions about the choice.
I want to be clear: I’m not saying that logic and practical considerations have no place in job choices. They are in fact the essential pieces of the puzzle, and without them you would have no ability to make a choice. However, I am saying that the final decision has to be personal, intuitive, and to some extent, emotional, for you to go ahead and make a choice with confidence, and without looking back.