Decision Making
CareerU with Ryan, Volume II

Set a direction. Be deliberate. Don’t look back.

Let’s face it: life is full of crossroads, where you have to choose between two, three, or more directions to go in. The question you have to ask yourself is, which direction is correct? Learning how to make sound decisions that follow a clear path will allow you to deal with life’s daily challenges in an efficient and thoughtful manner. With practice, you can harness the power of being an effective decision maker and utilize your newfound ability to grow personally and professionally.

Setting Goals

In life, there are so many avenues that you can travel down, and multiple destinations where you can end your journey. So, how do you know if something is “right” or “wrong” for you? The answer: you can never really be certain. This can easily become frustrating and agonizing when faced with any kind of decision, major or minor. One of the best ways to grapple with making decisions is to set a top-level goal.

I hear a lot of discussion about setting a multitude of goals. This only causes confusion. As you begin to work toward multiple goals, your attention goes in several directions, leaving your goals at risk. Instead, I encourage you to come up with one “top level goal” that is reasonable and attainable. For example, my top-level goal is to help others grow and achieve their personal and professional aspirations in the wine & spirits industry. Once you have your top-level goal, you can work backwards and identify the steps needed for you to achieve your goal. This makes the decision-making process much more fluid and straightforward. You understand that any decision that does not move you along the said path to the top-level goal is not the right decision. This is relevant and important no matter where you are in life: just graduating from college or 15 years in to your professional career.

While having a top-level goal will help you determine what is the “right” or “wrong” decision, you can never really be sure that something is “right” or “wrong” in life. My best advice is to instead ensure that your decisions are “directionally correct,” meaning your decisions help you get closer to your top-level goal.

Making Sound Decisions

Now that we have an understanding that you can never really understand if things are right or wrong, we can move on to how to make decisions. First and most importantly, you make your best decisions when you actually take time to think through all possible scenarios. When you make a snap decision, it will not yield the best outcome. Take a step back from the decision you have to make, cast aside as many of the emotions you may be feeling, and take a bit of time to assess each scenario carefully.

A great way to do so is to think in terms of costs and benefits. Essentially, this looks at both the pros of a situation and also the potential cons, allowing you to make fact-based decisions. For example, let’s assess the scenario of deciding what kind of college/university you should attend:


Large Public University Small Private College
Larger class sizes with less personalized teaching Smaller class sizes with hands on teaching
Lower annual tuition and college loans required Higher annual tuition and large student loans required
Risk of feeling like a number among a large student population Community based campus with high frequency of peer interactions
Access to well-funded facilities Smaller facilities that may not be up to date
A wide range of programs and majors that are well-established A more specialized and narrow choice of majors, with the ability to work across multiple disciplines

I recommend listing out up to five facts (as done above) to explore a wide enough range of possibilities without over-complicating the decision.

Making Quick Decisions

There will be times you simply will not have the time to compare the pros and cons of your potential decisions. In these instances, trust your own personal judgement (also known as “your gut”). Your “gut feeling,” or intuition, operates on your own prior knowledge of situations. When faced with situations that call for a quick decision, take a minute to compare what you feel instinctually is the directionally correct path. Most often, those instincts won’t steer you wrong. This is a great way to practice self-confidence and assuredness in and out of the workplace.

It’s important to note that quick decisions are not snap decisions. Quick decisions do not require extra time to think through because you are working off prior knowledge and information that informs your next steps. Snap decisions happen when you have the time to weigh your potential actions, but you bypass this stage in the decision-making process to save time. This should be avoided at all costs.

Three-Step Process to Effective Decision Making

  1. Clear your mind and take a step back from any emotions you are experiencing. Emotions are not bad – they are a part of being human – but making decisions in an overly positive or negative state can lead to less than optimal outcomes that aren’t directionally correct.
  2. Assess the pros and cons of the decision by listing out the facts. Once you have understood the facts, make sure you think through how this decision will affect yourself in terms of your top-level goal, as well as others around you.
  3. Make the decision in an appropriate time frame and move forward. While making a decision quickly is rarely a good idea, waiting too long to come to a decision has considerable risks. You do not want to come across as indecisive. Asking for 24 hours is a good rule of thumb, especially when a major decision is in consideration.

And there you have it: an easy, simple to use strategy will directly impact to your ability to attain what you want, both professionally and personally.