It’s taken me several years to learn how to be honest with myself and make decisions based on what I actually want versus what I think I should want. I envy those who are so self-actualized that they say in Yoda-like fashion “I always trust my gut”. For some reason I haven’t been very good at this and constantly question my judgment.

Every time someone says “what does your gut say?”, I recoil because I have a tendency to over-analyze things to the point of lunacy and make decisions based on logic, reasoning, blah blah blah yawn. In my old age though, I’m starting to finally learn…

Several years ago when I was leaving a lucrative consulting career (why I left deserves its own post in itself), I was interviewing at two very different firms in very different roles. One was a medium sized firm that not many people had heard of, doing something new that I had always aspired to do. The other was at a prestigious large firm that most everyone knows, doing something that I was sort of already doing but not really that interested in. When I had excitedly applied to the former job, I never thought I was even going to get an interview let alone the offer because I had no real direct experience in it. The interview was tough with a full on homework assignment but somehow I got through it and got the offer. The management was very generous in their assessment of me and said even though I had no direct experience in the area, they wanted to hire me because they believed in my potential or something to that effect.

On the flip side during my interviews at the large firm, the job sounded dull and the interviewers sounded even duller. The main thing I remember was that they didn’t seem all that interested in me, more just that they needed to fill a number.

Both offers were about the same compensation. And what did I do? I took the job at the large firm because I didn’t want to take a chance on the unknown. I also fell for the prestige and safety net of the larger company. I had only a couple days to make the decision and I panicked and chose the road more traveled – I picked the job that I thought I SHOULD take, rather than the job I actually WANTED to take. I convinced myself that I wanted the job at the big firm and even convinced my family and friends who kept telling me I wouldn’t like it. Clearly I had people around me who knew me better than I knew myself.

The main thing I remember was that they didn’t seem all that interested in me, more just that they needed to fill a number.  

What I didn’t factor in at the time was that the big firm job was a dime a dozen. The other job was a fluke opportunity that I probably wouldn’t easily get again. I also didn’t understand that it’s relatively easy to change up your environment (your boss, your company, your commute) but not so easy to change up a function or industry – once you’re in that, you’re kind of stuck and would need to claw your way out.

Somehow I did eventually manage to claw my way out several years later and I’m now doing something similar to that job I let get away and I’m finally feeling some career contentment again. But I do often wonder what would have happened if I took that dream job. Even if I had failed, at least I would have felt good about trying rather than taking the easy road.

One thing I remember vividly was how I slumped out that first day of work, feeling uneasy and a bit drained. That’s pretty much the telltale sign that you’re doing something wrong to yourself. I remind myself of that moment whenever I am stuck trying to make a big decision and now try to go with whatever makes me feel excited and energized rather than depleted and down. Short of murdering someone or stealing someone’s husband, you might as well just do what you want to do and not over-analyze – everything else is just details and will work itself out.