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Making a Big Decision When You’re Not Sure Which Choice Is Right

Right Decision Wrong Decision

“When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” ~Viktor Frankl

Over the last two and a half years I have made some big changes in my life. And by big, I mean enormous.

First, I moved with my husband and our children from a home I loved for ten years. Shortly after, my husband and I ended a twenty-year relationship and marriage. With that separation, I made the decision to buy the house we had moved to, which on paper, I shouldn’t have been able to buy.

Apparently ending a long commitment and beginning a large financial one on my own wasn’t enough for me though. The following year I resigned from a secure job to pursue a dream I hadn’t fully envisioned and started a business without projected goals.

When I list out all the changes, I start to question my own sanity.

I have never been one to make quick decisions, especially ones that I hadn’t thought through. I was raised by my father, a self-proclaimed workaholic, who spent his career as a high powered executive for a high risk industrial insurance company.

I was not bred to believe in taking chances, to live on instinct alone, and to leave anything that resembled security. You just don’t do that. But something was stirring in me that kept me unsettled.

I knew it was time to make changes, and I knew those changes were absolutely not guaranteed to work in my favor. I was scared—no, terrified—to alter the course of my life, but standing still gave me even more anxiety.

How do you make the decision to change your entire life and know it’s truly right for you?

I have a secret, one that I’ve used consistently in recent years when making decisions that weighed heavily on me.

It’s a technique that simplifies the agonizing back and forths of “should I or shouldn’t I?” One I wished I learned when I was younger to ward off some major bouts of indecisiveness and internal torment. Although in retrospect, I would not have been ready to use it until I was actually ready to hear it.

When I was agonizing over the idea of ending my marriage, I reached out to a friend who had recently undergone some of his own major life changes. I didn’t tell him what I was debating, but I told him it was big.

He gave me the most valuable advice I had ever received. “To make the decision, take the fear out, then you’ll know.”

What? How on Earth do you take the fear out? I had lived in fear for the majority of my existence. How do you keep yourself safe if you don’t live in the fear? In fact, fear is safe. It kept me securely in the life I felt like I was suffocating in. I knew exactly what to expect.

Why step outside for fresh air if there is no guarantee that that air is not poisonous? Who does that? Maybe I do. Or at least maybe I could ask.

So I asked the question to myself out loud and then I took the fear out. Completely out. No worries in the world, fairy tale ending out. I had to conceptualize what the fears looked like and what they actually were.

My biggest fear was that I couldn’t manage life on my own, including running a household financially and physically. What if I tried and I failed? What would I do?

To discard the fear, I had to “what if” the opposite. “What if I tried and succeeded? How would I feel if managed on my own and figured out each step of the way?”

I also worried about the lack of emotional support and wondered if I would come home from work each day crumbling and crying and not be able to parent my children effectively. I had always had a partner, someone to rely on and to pick me back up when I fell.

I knew the feeling of being alone and I knew how awful it felt to think that I couldn’t handle it. I felt like a failure even before I tried.

Then I asked myself, “What if I used my resources for emotional support? What if I relied on my friends and family—and what if I relied on myself?” The reversal of the what if’s felt powerful and motivating. And I knew it was possible they could be true.

When we tell ourselves lies, it feels awful; when we speak the truth, it is light and freeing. Each truth I spoke felt closer to answering my own question.

Not only did I have to identify each fearful “what if,” I had to remove them. This can be done by listing them on paper and crossing them out or simply calling them by name and removing them from the equation like they don’t exist.

I saw them each, one by one, stand up to me. There were so many. And then, one by one, I asked them to leave the room. And there came my answer: it was time to let go.

It was not an answer I particularly liked, nor was it easy. In fact, it was one of the hardest answers I’ve ever had to accept. But it was honest and it was accurate. Our heart always knows the answer when we gain the courage to even ask.

Since that day, I have been faced with a multitude of opportunities to use and teach this technique. It has never steered me wrong. And throughout making the changes, I had to walk through those fears with each step. They appear over and over again and need to be confronted on a regular basis.

It is not an easy task, but it’s no more challenging than living with them. Living in fear is not far from not living at all. It is intermittently debilitating and paralyzing, yet always extraordinarily painful, even when it’s safe.

Whenever I hit the wall of self-doubt after following through with the decisions I’ve made, I look back at who I was a few years ago and ask what she would think of me.

The answer is consistent. I am the woman I would have envied from afar. A woman strong enough to live a life she didn’t know she wanted at first glance, but one that allowed her to be her authentic self. I chose to take the fear out and in turn, chose to live as myself.

Making a big decision? Go ahead, take the fear out and then you will know exactly what it is your heart wants you to know.

Right or wrong image via Shutterstock

About Lynn Reilly

Lynn Reilly is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Master Energy Therapist and Author of the children's book, The Secret to Beating the Dragon. You can subscribe to her blog on livingwithserendipity.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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  • I’m still here

    Fear only comes from lack of knowledge

  • lv2terp

    GREAT post!!! Thank you for sharing your insight, that is really a wonderful way to approach making a decision! 🙂

  • Talya Price

    Thank you. I am glad you shared your story. I am making a big decision that will change my life probably forever, but I know I have to do it this year or I will never do it, and I want to do this so badly. Reading your story was a sign from The Universe.

    Thank you.

  • Krystle

    I can not tell you how much this helped me today! You brought so much light and clarity to all the BIG changes that are happen in my life right now!

  • Sandra G

    Thank you for sharing your article. I am on the fence about making a life changing decision and am struggling with the fear of what if. I’m looking forward to trying your strategy.

  • Brandy

    This post was so inspiring. You’re right, fear is what holds us back from living. I never looked at it like that. Thanks so much for sharing your inspiring story.

  • nicole dziedzic

    I so love this post, this is such a great subject to touch base with.

  • Jen S.

    Love, love, love this Lynn. I got goosebumps reading it, because I am in that place right now. I never thought of removing the fear. But yes, standing still, and living in fear creates so much more anxiety. I am not living my truth although I know what that truth is! Instead I am refusing it, and doing whatever possible to “stay safe”. Today I will write my fears and, hopefully, begin to cross them out. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!
    Jen S.

  • What a great article!! I am sending a link to my friend, she is going trough hard times right now and needs your advice! Thank you so much!

  • Lynn Reilly

    I’m so glad you appreciated it! It’s a practice for sure, but I swear by it to find my own way.

  • Lynn Reilly

    The Universe is pretty fantastic like that! Just remember there really are no “bad” decisions, because we learn from all of them…even the decision to stand still. But when you follow what feels right for you, the same Universe will open doors up that you didn’t even know existed. You got this!

  • Lynn Reilly

    That is wonderful Krystle! I’m so happy for you! Keep the faith

  • Lynn Reilly

    Good for you Sandra! Fear is only as powerful as we make it. This I know for sure. Hold on to the feeling of when you choose to release it because that feeling will be the strength that keeps you going.

  • Lynn Reilly

    You are very welcome! Fear is that obstacle we can all identify with.

  • Lynn Reilly

    I’m so glad! Thank you Nicole!

  • Lynn Reilly

    You are welcome! When you see yourself living in your truth, when you really see it, there will be no “hopefully,” you will make it happen because you will want nothing less than to be who you are.

  • Lynn Reilly

    Thank you Lolita. I hope it helps her.

  • Sam

    This article was amazing Lynn! I think it is what so many need including myself. How easy of a concept and true! I’m going to try this as much as I can!

  • steven

    thank you so much. I am a shy person who doesnt like talking to females. but this has allowed me to regain my courage and ask this girl out. Much love

  • Lynn Reilly

    I’m so glad you appreciated it! The concept is simple and very effective. I’m excited for you!

  • Lynn Reilly

    That is wonderful Steven!!! I’d wish you luck, but you don’t need luck when you’re making things happen. 🙂

  • Aileen

    This article has helped me quit smoking. Of all things, huh? I have been smoking for 17 years, and I tried to quit several times. Yet, I was always afraid of the days following the initial step. As an addict, your addiction paralyzes you. You get scared of the stress of letting go of your “best friend” & the fear of failing (again). But what if I didn’t fail!? What if I succeed? Look at all the benefits of quitting smoking! It’s been 3 days since I smoked my last one. I have a long road ahead of me, but the thought of future-Aileen looking back to past-Aileen and being proud, helps a great deal.
    I’m tired of not living because of fear. There are so many aspects of my life that I can apply this too. Thank you Lynn!

  • “To make the decision, take the fear out, then you’ll know.” Wow. One of the best advices I heard for a long, long time. Thanks for sharing this!

  • Fumi

    The last 12 months have been incredible. I decided to end my 20 year marriage (24 year relationship). Didn’t know what was coming next, but all the signs pointed to that decision. The realization that I married for the wrong reasons was sobering. As a shy person, the thought of dating was intimidating. All I knew for certain was my marriage had to end.

    Then, the Universe stepped in. The last time I saw my childhood crush was 40 years ago and he stepped back into my life. He also ended his 20 year marriage. For the first time in my life, I feel truly happy and blessed. Now, another big decision is before me and I am taking another leap of faith by leaving my job and moving to another state. Finding employment has been challenging, so I am hoping my prospects will improve with the move.

    Conviction that I am making the right decisions is getting me through these days. A friend pointed out that I am wrapping my life around another person instead of being on my own. Perhaps she is right. I see my future with a man who truly loves me for who and what I am. He is interested in my happiness and well-being. He wants to share experiences with me. I am filled with a love and desire like never before. We both understand our relationship is moving at super-sonic speed and we are realistic in our expectations. Down the road this may not work out, but because of our past experiences we have learned how to work at relationships.

    Right now, my mantra is “I am open to receive and trust in all you have planned for me.” Right now, there is no fear; only hope.

  • Shanker

    Yours is certainly Amazing Courage Lynn.

    My experience has been that below every big fear/problem lie a lot of smaller ones that holds that bigger one. I’m not sure whether anyone can tackle the bigger one without tackling those smaller ones first. In fact, winning them over empowers one for the bigger. So, more than worrying about the bigger one, we certainly need to identify the smaller ones and face them first.

    Thanks for sharing your great experience and putting it so nicely for us. Kudos to you Lynn!

  • rachana

    i have to make one important decision fr my career which cnt b changed later on..i have two options n i hv to choose one among them..n both are bit different in there own nature so its difficult fr me to make..n both have certain fears pinned to it..now as u mentioned to take fear out..whn i did both stood equal fr me..now hw should i choose?whats the main criteria to make a right decision in ones own life?plz pour ur thoughts..

  • Lynn Reilly

    You’re so welcome, Martina!

  • Lynn Reilly

    Thank you! And I’m going to share with you what I’ve learned in walking through fear…if I commit to walking through the big one, the little ones either fall away or find solutions fairly quickly. We are supported in big ways when we walk in our truth. It’s pretty amazing!

  • Lynn Reilly

    It really all comes down to how you FEEL. You may feel fear with both and that’s okay, but which one makes you feel more alive? If you could remove the fear, which one makes you feel more excited? That’s how you’ll know.

  • Lynn Reilly

    Congratulations!! One of the strongest patterns I see people live in, including myself, is getting comfortable in the discomfort. Even if you know a behavior or situation doesn’t feel good or doesn’t work for you, you know how to deal with it. You know how to face the discomfort. Its way more common than not. So happy for you Aileen!! Be proud of those accomplishments!

  • Lynn Reilly

    I LOVE your mantra!! And just a reminder, there really are no “right” or “wrong” decisions. Every decisions teaches us something valuable we wanted to learn. Sometimes its challenging to hold on to this, but know whatever direction you take will get you where you “need” to go.

  • Jaimi

    Two weeks ago I left my partner of two years because he doesn’t want any more children (he has three with his previous wife). I have no children. I am 35 and he is 49 and has made the decision he wants no more. I love him with everything I am and I know he loves me and wanted to be with me forever. It was a decision that took a long time to make – but I don’t know if I have done the right thing. I know if I stay with him I will never be a mum. But there are no guarantees I will meet anyone else or even get pregnant. I miss him so much and it’s even harder that he is hurting so much too. In a perfect world I would have him and a baby, but I can’t have both. Having read your article I still can’t come to the right conclusion. Please help me.

  • Lynn Reilly

    You are right, Monty, there are no guarantees, and that is why following our heart is so essential because its the only indicator of knowing what we truly desire. With that said, and not knowing your situation, sometimes we are given opportunities that don’t look like what we thought they might, but still give us what we are craving and wanting. I would suggest asking yourself what being a mother means to you and how you feel it will enhance or change your life…and look around to see if there are opportunities in your life where this may already be happening. And if there aren’t, how that can be created.

  • Me

    Amazing! i love ur article. i’ve to make a dicision which is: move on and get over the man that i loved…it seems hard for me and i’m living in fear for a long time…i was afraid thatt i will lose him forever and not to find love again! but i’m sure everything will be okay 🙂 thank you
    my mantra is “u’ll find ur one” 🙂

  • Zimbae

    Every time i ask myself what should I decide either i stay and compromise or listen a certain voice coming inside of me saying move on life is beautiful and evry time I refuse to hear because I always make my self to belief that sometimes little patience and compromises bring peace in life rather then take your head out from situation but within few days again my mind fails to carry on that thought of staying to keep faith , and again it points me to move on and keep faith but still I can’t make decision of my own

  • Me

    Anybody there? Can anyone help me? I’ve to make an imp decision and I’m paralyzed.. Due to anxiety, I didn’t appear for 2 of my exams this semester,which I’ll have to clear along with 7 new subjects+the ones I might have failed this semester. I have fear of studying, and the anxiety! I gave exams without studying so I don’t know if I’ll pass..

    I was such a good student.. A topper. But then due to some bad stuff things spiralled out of control.

    I don’t know if I should continue studying. Where I’m from, there’s no support for anxiety ridden students as the concept is unheard of. I was the topper in the entrance exams for this course, and yet here we are now.

  • please keep pushing forward

    Hi “Me”,
    Sorry for the late reply – it looks like this article was written a couple of years ago, and I only stumbled upon it because I too am going through the same thing.

    You should take the time to speak to your professors. Be honest with them, let them know what took place and you made a bad decision of not showing up for the exams but that you would like another chance so as not to fall behind on everything.
    You are afraid now, but imagine how afraid you will be if you end up giving up on studies altogether *knock wood*. Failing your semester does not make you a failure. Since no one is perfect, we have to mess up somewhere. For you, it looks like this might be one of those instances. FORGIVE YOURSELF. You cannot change the past – you must grasp whatever consequences or reality you have ahead of you right now and trust that it will work out. As long as you try, it will work out. But you can’t give up. I don’t want you to! You deserve to be back to the student you were!

  • Siddharth malhotra

    Hey,
    I am shivendra singh from rajasthan,india.i am 6’2 & want to ask you something.I am also frightened and a bit confused of the decisions I should make.I am 21 years old,do marijuana occasionally and smoking also.but that’s not what I want to talk about.
    I have a girlfriend who is so sweet and caring towards me.She is good looking but I don’t know why i dont not feel confident when I think of introducing her to my family and friends.
    she cries to me when I Repeatedly say her tochange but I just can’t do anything,its like stuck in my head-“i don’t have a beautiful girlfriend,she’s put on weight,she’s short And she’s from different caste.
    What should I do?we recently had a fight on this and she felt so low i care for her but I feel I could have got a better girlfriend

  • Serves

    Youre a douchebag u dont deserve her if u think u can get a better gf, go try! U might succeed in getting one, bt if she is really better, than she wont remain ur gf for more than a minute, douche.

  • NamaBeauty

    You are a waste of space. “My girlfriend isnt beautiful, Im 6’2, i tell her to change but the dumb woman just wont grow taller, fairer, prettier! How can i introduce such a girl to my people as MY girlfriend! The horror! I could have gotten a better model, oh im so sad”
    Ur right, u dont deserve her. And as far as getting a better gf goes, dont kid yourselves. You may get one Bt if she really is better, she wont stay for even 1 second!

  • Me

    Im scared. I got suicidal the last time. It costs a lot, what if i screw up again? Im already far behind. I failed 1 sub, so i Would have to appeared for 7+3=10 subjects this april..
    What if MBA is just not for me?
    Should i just do anything MA in english literature and try to be a professor? I dont know. I just dont know.

  • Me

    Thank you so much for replying! It means a lot, I dont feel so alone anymore! :’)

  • Bhavna Vithalpura

    I know how it feels

  • Maitreya Mckinlay

    Yeah bruh…YOU are your own problem. Let her find someone who deserves her and will appreciate her and you…quit the weed and sort yourself out mate. Some inner issues you need to really work through…god bless.

  • Me

    Please reply someone. Anyone. I would really appreciate it.

    Please!

  • Rer

    I don’t know how to make you feel better but to say your not alone! Try to find someone you can talk to like a counsellor etc lots of love xx

  • Amy

    I know this is discussion is old.. But thank you I have been struggling with pretty much the same story as you wrote.. live in a house I love have lived here for 13 years … tbh its the only house my children have known… I have been struggling with leaving my husband of 12 years… Every time I get enough nerve the fear takes over.. what if’s start popping up (almost like a cartoon) over my head… what if i dont have the support … what if i can’t look after my children all by myself.. what if I dont find a job that i love in this new city… what if, what if, what if…. But now that I have taken the fear out of it… its more exciting to see … yes a little scary but no more scary than staying stuck in a life that is dull, uninteresting, and loveless. It’s funny how comfortable we become living in an uncomfortable situation. I would rather live comfortable living in comfortable situation… i believe that almost might be the definition of happiness. =) Thanks again Lynn its exactly what i needed to read at the exact right moment in time.

  • Becca

    I was recently accepted into graduate school for a program I never thought I would be able to get into….communication disorders. I have been trying to get in since 2014. While waiting for this school to either accept me or deny me I started to teach ESL at nights to adults and even took up a job at high school as a college and career counselor/coordinator. While teaching and counseling I found that teaching and working with young minds really made me happy but it was not apart of my plan. During my college career, I always saw myself as a speech pathologist and had a life plan set. After trying so long, I decided to get my certification as a teacher because not only did my passion really shine for it but also I never heard back from this graduate school. Now here is the curve ball, 2 days ago the graduate school calls me and offers me a spot in their program but I have 5 days to get all the paper work done, find a place to live and move there. They asked if I was willing to do that and I immediately said yes. I was excited but then came the anxiety. I currently only have 2 days to think about this and have filed for an apartment in this other state, am struggling to fill out the paper work (If I don’t get it done, they will kick me out of the program), trying to figure out how I am suppose to pay for the school….etc. I honestly don’t know if I am making the right choice. I finally got what i always wanted…to get into this program but I cant sleep, eat and I keep thinking is this the right decision?. On the other hand, I found my passion for teaching and know for a fact i would be amazing at it. I am so scared and cant sleep and don’t know what decision to make.

  • Becca

    What do you visualize yourself doing? I know getting an MBA is costly but put cost aside, put the fact you failed a few classes aside and really think….what do you see yourself doing? Do you see yourself teaching at a college or using your MBA degree in a business? Which would make you more happy (money aside)? I am sorry I am responding 5 months after the fact but I needed advice too and saw your post and thought I could help.

  • Becca

    I always grew up hearing that the little voice in your head, that gut feeling in your stomach is not only your body telling you something but also some higher power…for me that would be God. Sometimes we need to acknowledge the voice that says do it or don’t do it and ask ourselves….what decision makes me feel better. What decision will allow me to be a better person tomorrow, a happier person tomorrow. Hope this helps…..believe me when I say I too, am doubting the voice in my head and gut.