How can I get better at making career decisions?

You have choices to make. Lots of them! And sometimes choosing from too many different things can seem overwhelming and cause us to freeze up.

There’s actually an official word for it: decision fatigue.

To make decisions relating to your career, it's often helpful to start by thinking about your values and your long-term goals. This can help you make progress toward clarity.

Reflect on what you value most (i.e., which activities or experiences do you enjoy most in your personal or professional life?).

  • Where do you gain the most satisfaction?

  • What are you passionate about and what do you find meaningful?

  • What are you good at and what are your strengths?

  • What are your financial needs and what do you need to meet them?

We can’t know the true outcome of the choices we make in advance or how our choice will play out in the long run, and so we end up fearing the opportunity cost of making the wrong choice and experiencing a fear of missing out (FOMO, as the kids say).

Reframe your thinking to celebrate the availability of options. Choices, especially difficult ones, provide us with an opportunity to ground ourselves and consider what is most important to us. They are an opportunity to pay attention to our fundamental values.

After all, our paths in life are rarely linear and straight! Philosopher Ruth Chang, for example, sees that “hard choices are precious opportunities for us to celebrate what is special about being human”. We tend to agree.

Be more thoughtful about your choices.

Each time you are presented with multiple options, consider moving through this exercise.

  • Break the choice down and identify what makes this choice difficult. Do you choose in autopilot without even thinking? Do you avoid choosing at all? If so, what’s stopping you?

  • Consider your fundamental values: what is most important to you?

  • How are your values reflected in the choices in front of you? Are other perceptions of you impacting your choice?

  • What is your gut feeling telling you? Sometimes your gut can help you make better and faster decisions.

  • Make a list. Write down 5 to 10 options relating to this decision. Sometimes, this will mean widening your option pool before narrowing it back down.

  • Narrow the list. Give yourself 1-minute to scratch out all but three of these options and circle the one that seems most appealing. Don’t worry about eliminating the right one. If you scratch it off and feel nervous, then maybe it’s a sign that this isn’t the correct elimination. Just add it back and eliminate a different option.

  • Think through your hypothesis. You have circled one leading option.  From here, think through what would happen if you moved forward with that option. What would happen if you moved forward with another option?

  • Use this as your opportunity to either make a final decision or gather more information. Whatever you do - don’t freeze!

  • Often when we’re stuck it is because we don’t have enough information. When in doubt, talk to your network (i.e., friends, acquaintances, friends).