How to Make Tough Decisions Bearable–and With Clarity

We all face the burden of making tough decisions we’d rather not make. Decisions like: leaving a spouse or partner, sending a parent to a nursing home, saying goodbye to a pet, closing a business, firing a longtime employee, or leaving a secure job. It’s an inevitable piece of life replete with a tidy package of grief, confusion, anger, fear, avoidance, and more.

As an entrepreneur, you must make tough choices, sometimes under unexpected circumstances. While we all experience and process each situation on our own timeline and in our own way, there are a few things you can do for an added measure of self-care.

Before making a tough decision, create your support system.

When we are in distress, we often forget to help ourselves in nurturing ways—or inform others how to help us.

When I made the gut-wrenching decision to leave a career I loved, I knew I would need to lean on others. It was time to walk away from the television broadcasting industry that I’d been part of all my adult life, but what would I do with my life after television?

Before formalizing this tough decision, I made an appointment at the local career center to learn about my options. I took the Meyer’s Briggs and other assessments at the community college; I reached out to my network to ask for connections, and I let my friends and family know that I would need some fun distractions from my quest to find a new beginning. These measures offered me a softer landing when I made an emotional exit from the only career I’d ever known.

Consider what might be needed and what would feel good to you during a stressful period in your life and ask for support. Making decisions and plans like these ahead of time will offer you a softer landing.

Plan for the inevitable.

I find a significant amount of our stress comes from doubting our choices and taking the big step of making the final decision. A situation I often experience with the entrepreneurs I coach is the unwillingness to let go of an unproductive or difficult employee. As the business grows, longtime employees may not be capable of growing with it. As employers, we understand the struggle an employee may encounter when facing unemployment. Feelings get involved and doubt sets in. Yet, once the entrepreneur decides to release an employee who isn’t performing or is not a good culture fit, good things happen—usually for the employer and the employee.

Give some thought to the decisions you may have to make in the future. Apply this formula:

If x and y happen, I will move to z, my final decision. In this scenario, if this employee fails to meet the requirements discussed in our meeting and doesn’t change their toxic attitude, I will let them go. This kind of planning lessens the possibility of emotional reasoning getting in the way of your ability to make a sound, albeit tough, decision. This process is especially helpful in big life decisions like managing the well-being of someone who can no longer make decisions on their own.

Find the collateral beauty.

I loved being the owner of a thriving independent coffeehouse. All of it, but the stress of running a brick-and-mortar business, the financial concerns, and 15 young, not-so-reliable employees—all while being the single parent of two teenagers.

As I always say, being an entrepreneur can be lonely, so I hired a business coach to help me with direction and clarity. That experience turned into so much more than I’d anticipated. It ultimately led to my current career, which turned out to be my life purpose and passion. Still, I had to make the difficult decision to sell my amazing coffeehouse so I could go to school and build my coaching practice.

The movie, Collateral Beauty, offers an unusual viewpoint of loss. There are aspects of even our most difficult experiences that are beautiful if we open our minds to a broader perspective. Selling the coffeehouse, while painful as I let go of my community of friends and a place I’d come to know as a sanctuary. It felt nearly unbearable; still, letting go provided me the growth opportunity of a lifetime. My coach offered to mentor me and supply me with pro bono clients. I’d added another layer of wisdom that comes with failures and successes, and this knowledge would support me in helping other entrepreneurs. I met people who would remain in my life for many years beyond the coffeehouse. I have memories of all the musicians and artists I helped by providing them a place to showcase their talents. Although I was grieving for the home-away-from-home I’d lost, my life was rich with joyful memories and more.

Use the oxygen mask theory.

We’ve all sat through the redundant safety messages on commercial flights. “Ladies and gentlemen, “Should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead area. Please place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others.” Why? Because you can’t help anyone if you’re unconscious.

Sometimes life gets tough just before we must make a dreaded decision. The stress and concern build up, making you emotional as your next steps become clear as mud. When your body’s energy and oxygen become consumed by its survival mechanism, your brain does not function well. The energy consumption leads to a sense of overwhelm, confusion, and many emotions.

Somehow, we become martyrs during a crisis, refusing comfort and help from others and neglecting our own needs. These sacrifices do not aid anyone involved in the situation and certainly don’t benefit you. Slow down, create space, eat as well as you can, and do what is needed to ensure proper rest.

One thing I know for sure. When we create the smoothest path possible, we have greater clarity and energy to get to the other side of our decisions. Once there, we can pick up our lives and begin to release whatever problems and pain the situation has brought into our lives.

Making good decisions is less burdensome when you have a great coach at your side. Contact me to schedule a complimentary discussion to see if I can help you to achieve clarity and stay on track. 

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