Your Inner Compass — A Six Step Guide to Making GREAT Big Decisions

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Some decisions don’t matter.  Tacos or tuna for lunch?  Tacos.  Bam! Didn’t even have to think about it, right?   There’s no reason to spend a hot minute on these types of light-weight decisions.  There are few if any consequences.   Live your life. Eat a taco!

Other decisions, require a bit of research and some awareness of your personal preferences, but also, do not have lasting consequences.  Let’s take for example my recent experience purchasing a couch.  I went to a few stores, sat on a few and ultimately went with a comfortable, navy-blue number that fit within my budget and style criteria.   It matters little, and I’m happy with it, so yay me. If it doesn’t work out, it’ll be annoying, inconvenient, and yet another unexpected expense. Still, I’ll get over it. I’m a big girl.

A few decisions DO have lasting, heavy consequences and can get the nerves firing off at the mere mention of the need to make the decision in the first place — marriage, divorce, starting a family, starting or quitting a job, and moving are only a few of the biggies that require more work from and collaboration between your heart, nerves, and noggin.

Big foolish idiot alert.

Nearly two decades ago I was considering marriage.  It all seemed wonderful on paper.  He was fun to be around.  I liked his family.  He was in a great field of study and poised to make a good living.  We shared the same religious beliefs. Yada yada yada… We were set to have a good life.

The thing is, I had this nagging, heavy feeling that it wasn’t the right thing to do. I had a major case of cognitive dissonance. It just would not settle in my soul.

I prayed and prayed about it, hoping that some peace would follow.  I tried to will the peace to come through prayer and wasted wishing. The peace never did arrive.

How was it possible that what seemed so right could be so wrong? It made no sense. My brain could not understand what my heart knew.  God was trying to tell me something really REALLY important, but I didn’t want to HEAR it.

I chose to ignore that pressing, gripping, unsettled feeling and got married anyway.

I have absolute and lasting regret about that choice.  It resulted in much unrelenting heartache for myself and many others. Some of those consequences linger today.

Why in a day and age when so many people get divorced, do I think this disaster could have been averted?

If I had listened to my gut instinct, instead of only focusing on what I wanted in the moment, I wouldn’t have married a man whose dishonesty knew no bounds, who hurt innocent people and eventually ended up in prison.  I couldn’t have known what he would be capable of doing.  But God knew. HE wanted to tell me.

I left my husband at a time when I was a stay-at-home mom and seven months pregnant with our third child.   That was a terrible time and getting divorced was, at that point, the only possible choice given the glaring circumstances. Sometimes decisions are like that too.

I paid dearly for not heeding my body’s natural warning system. This leads me to another, and hopefully a more uplifting example.

It took me many years to rebuild my life after the complicated and life-sucking divorce.   In that time, I went back to school to get my master’s degree and teaching certificate so I could support myself and my children.

I did my student teaching and the whole time hoped a job would open up at the school. This was my ideal school, but there were no open positions, and I began earnestly looking for a teaching job elsewhere. In those days, the teaching profession was saturated and I applied at dozens of schools with no success.

At the same time, I was considering a big move.  I needed a change and a new setting for a new chapter in my life, one that wasn’t a constant reminder of the past.  My sister lived in Alaska, and I had visited a couple of times and fell in love with her quaint little town.

I decided to move.  It felt right.  I was at peace. I was also scared even though my heart felt light at the thought of moving.

I went to Alaska to find a place to live. My brother-in-law agreed to employ me short-term until a teaching position could be secured. I went back home and we packed our boxes.

In an unexpected plot twist, the week before we were set to move, I received a call from the school where I’d done my student teaching. I was offered an interview.

My heart should have been rejoicing. This should have been a no-brainer. After all, that was what I had wanted all along. This was THE perfect teaching job — my dream job!

Why then did my heart sink to my stomach? Why couldn’t the call have come before I packed all of my things?  Why did I feel sick about the choice before me?

After a few agonizing hours of wrestling with the decision, I realized that I could not stay.  I knew I was to move to Alaska.  I made the call to decline the interview. The peace returned.

It was a huge leap of faith to pack up my family and go as a single mother of three children to a place so completely different than anywhere I’d ever lived.

It may even have seemed irresponsible to move without long-term employment secured, but I did it because I was motivated by the reassurance that it was the right path.

Without the tiniest sliver of doubt, I can say it was the best decision I have ever made. Blessings and opportunities fell in my lap.   I landed the best job of my life.  I found my husband and gained a son. My children have had opportunites and experiences that couldn’t have been found in any other place.

Has it been hard?  Boy howdy, has it ever been hard at times! So, so hard. After all, life doesn’t stop. But the peace of mind, knowing that I am where I am supposed to be during this season of my life, can’t be measured.

You may already be a decision-making pro, but if not, here’s the recipe for making solid BIG decisions. It works for me, maybe you’ll find something to help you on your way.

  1. Determine and weigh the pros and cons.  
  2. Make the decision.  I used to be a big-decision vacillator. One day when I was feeling stuck about a big choice before me, a caring loved one told me that I needed to decide to decide. In other words he urged me to stop procrastinating making the decision!
  3. Move forward with the decision unless you know or feel like it might be wrong (like in my first story). Sometimes you feel nothing. In that case, make the best choice you can with the information you have and enjoy the adventure.
  4.  Listen to your heart.  That does not mean just do whatever the heck you want, consequences be damned. It means to pay attention to what you are feeling about the decision as you think and pray about it. Prayer always helps me because I know I’m not alone in the decision.
  5. Evaluate your feelings.  I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this step. Remember that anxiety and fear are not the same as an unsettling feeling. Was I afraid to move to Alaska?  Yes.  Did I feel a bit of anxiety about moving to a place so different from where I’d been living?  Uh…yah! Those feelings can be a part of a “productive struggle” toward growth. Think about the season between high school and college. There’s anxiety a brewin’ and nearly boiling over, yet one is on the precipice of quantum levels of personal growth on the way toward full adulthood. However, if you have a foreboding, unsettling or sick feeling every time you think about the decision, you are getting a clear message that this is a NO-GO.
  6. Trust your inner compass and accept it.   If the answer is yes, proceed with confidence, even if you are scared. If the answer is no, take a hard pass, no matter how hard it is to walk away from that particular path. This is SO much easier said than done, but is most certainly a game-changing moment. It may not feel like it at the time, but trust that a better opportunity is on its way.

Do you have an experience to share about a time you listened or didn’t listen to your inner compass? I’d love to hear and share your stories.