Making Tough Decisions

You’re facing a difficult choice. It could be an ethical dilemma, or a business decision, whatever. You’ve gotten all the input and advice you can, and now it’s all up to you and you’re having trouble making the call, trying to figure out what’s important. What do you do?

Try to think ahead ten or twenty years regarding how you’re going to feel at that time having made the decision one way or the other long ago.

For example, suppose you’re deciding whether to be completely honest in some transaction, like whether you should tell the people who are about to buy your home that the water pipes are on the verge of bursting. Not telling them will net a few thousand more into your pocket than if you ‘fessed up.

Think about whether, ten years from now, having that money will have made any real long-term difference versus how you’re going to feel for the rest of your life. Be honest with yourself: this isn’t a test of your integrity but a self-assessment of how you truly view the world.

If you’re still stuck, consider this: for the most part (admittedly not always), doing what you know in your heart to be right is generally going to work out better in the long run, even though you might have to delay some short-term gratification. Punching an annoying neighbor in the nose might feel pretty good right now, but the odds are fairly high you will end up regretting it later (it could be your conscience, but it could also be fear of reprisal or a lawsuit), and the weight of that regret will be stronger than the momentary good feeling it gave you.

Being able to weigh the relative merits is what discipline and maturity are all about.

Here’s another way to look at it: Suppose you’re in your twilight years and somebody throws a testimonial dinner for you. As people get up to sing your praises, how much of that dinner will you be spending reviewing in your mind all the things you’ve done that, had these people known about them, might make them less generous in their remarks?

Honesty is not necessarily the best policy, as we all know. But it sure is a pretty good default position when you’re not sure of what to do.

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