How to make career decisions

giving up vs. changing directions

As I recently wrote, 2 years ago, I was writing out my personal goals and I decided that I wanted to be self-employed for the rest of my life.

Fast forward to 2019… I accepted a full time job.

Why did I do that? I was presented with the opportunity to join the team at Authors and to work with the owners, Ryan and Ross, to not only help them with what they are building, but to accelerate my creative career and learn about the business side of their operations. How they, with a tiny core team, are producing top-notch work for the largest companies in the world. I was intrigued by this but I fought it for a long time because I didn’t want to “give up” on my businesses. I didn’t want to “admit defeat” – even though this move was far from that.

I considered the opportunity for quite some time, and after fighting it for quite a while, I realized that I was presented with one of the greatest learning and growth opportunities of my life so far. So I took the job.

I wasn’t giving up on my business or admitting defeat. I was taking a different route that I firmly believe will launch me further ahead in my future career than my current path could.

This brings us to the main reason I wanted to share this:

A framework for making big decisions

I am not the most qualified person to give advice on this – I am still paralyzed by big decisions. It took me almost 2 years to pick out a standing desk… Unfortunately, most decisions in life can’t wait that long and we just have to make one.

This comes from a place I hope some of you can relate to. I realized I can’t avoid decisions and I want to improve, despite my natural instinct to let the natural decision-makers take the lead. So, instead of giving you advice, I’m going to tell you what I did and hope it helps you decision-avoiders.

This comes from a place I hope some of you can relate to. I realized I can’t avoid decisions and I want to improve, despite my natural instinct to let the natural decision-makers take the lead. So, instead of giving you advice, I’m going to tell you what I did and hope it helps you decision-avoiders.

1) Consider your options

We have a tendency to look at decisions as “good or bad” decisions. Right or wrong. But, those are the easier decisions to make. When we are presented with 2 or 3 options, the very first filter should be: “is one of these decisions a bad thing to do?” If so, don’t do it. Easy done.

However, most of our decisions are between a clear right and wrong, they are between two good decisions and we have to decide which is better. For example, “keep freelancing and have the freedom of self-employment” OR “take a day job and learn a ton, but be employed and deal with everything that comes with that.” Both are good options.

2) Make a pro’s and con’s list.

A literal, physical (or digital) one. Not in your head. On paper. Once you decide on your top options, write them down and make a list of the positives and negatives of each decision. Think it through. Don’t feel like you have to do this is one sitting – it might take a few days or weeks. Keep adding to it when you think of a new pro or con.

Once you feel like your list is complete (enough), look at the pros and cons and figure out if one or more of the results weigh heavier than another. You can go as far as building a weight system in a spreadsheet and weighing some traits as more important than others, but I’ve never made it quite that far.

Doing this can help you gain clarity on the actual decision you are making – and what comes with it. Often, this is enough to help you decide which option is better than the others.

3) Talk to someone you trust

This could be a mentor, a family member, a friend – really anyone. The key here is not to talk to them so they can tell you what to do. You want to talk to someone else so you can figure out what you want to do. Many times, we get caught up in our own head and can’t see clearly what we are thinking until we say it out loud to someone else. Tell your confidant what you are thinking and why you are thinking it – just dump your entire thought process out on them. If it still is not clear, have them ask hard questions and really dig into your assumptions. 90% of the time, you’ll realize you have a pretty good idea of what you are leaning towards when you start defending one side more than the other.

There’s huge benefit to a sounding board – writing out your thoughts is a great first step, but I can’t tell you the amount of times that talking through my decisions with a trusted friend or parent or mentor has helped me.

4) Sell the benefits, not the features.

We hear this advice a lot in sales and business – don’t sell the technical features of your product; sell the actual benefits the user will receive. You aren’t selling a 5GB digital mp3 player – you’re selling “1000 Songs in Your Pocket”.

We can use the same line of thinking when we are trying to “sell ourselves” on an idea. We often look at the “features” of a decision without considering the true benefits. In the case of my career choice – the features of accepting the job, good and bad, were “less freedom, more structure, more consistent hours, bigger clients, consistent paycheck, etc.” The benefits, on the other hand, were “accelerated learning pace, better connections, knowledge from mentorship, and ultimately better future business potential”.

Once I started thinking about the benefits and not just the direct features (salary, hours, time, clients etc), the choice because a little clearer.

5) “Where will I be in 5 Years?”

This was the golden question for me.

For large decisions, it’s important to think about the future more than just the next 1-2 years. I like 5 years because it seems close enough that I can picture it and don’t feel like I’m committing to something for the rest of my life, but long enough that I can zoom back and see a macro-trajectory of my life. When I was trying to decide if I should take this opportunity at Authors, I asked myself,

“Where will I be in 5 years if I do this, versus if I continue on the path that I am on?”

And I made myself be honest. I realized that, even though I was learning and growing a ton as a solo studio, I would reach a plateau soon that would limit my potential based on my knowledge and learning speed. I had enjoyed a lot of success because there is hardly any competition in my industry in my local area. It allowed me to work directly with great clients and to frame it in a way that was beneficial to both of us. Most clients here haven’t worked with large motion design studios, so they aren’t stuck on the traditional way of doing things. This allowed me to create our own ways of working that worked better for my clients and my business.

However, while I still believe the naiveté of inexperience allowed me to do things different (and I would offer – some better), it would ultimately limit my growth. What if I wanted to grow beyond my local market? What if I wanted to work with large clients and agencies? What if I wanted to grow a team and manage people? What if I wanted to hire help and stop doing everything myself? These were all questions that I am confident I would learn on my own, but I realized that working directly with people who have experienced and learned all these things already, I could expediate this learning pace and be in a much better place to run a successful business once I am ready to move on.

Where will i be in five years

6) Make a decision

When it comes down to it, you can’t hoo and haw for too long – at some point, you need to gird up your loins and make a decision. Here’s the thing: any decision is better than no decision. We get paralyzed by the idea of making the wrong decision and would rather choose inaction instead of risk doing the wrong thing.

If the option you are considering isn’t a morally or ethically bad thing, and if it seems like it could be the better of the options you are considering, DO IT. Commit, but remain flexible. Go 100% in on whatever you decide, but listen and see if you need to pivot down the road.

One thing is for certain: you aren’t going to make the right decision if you don’t make one.