How To Make a Decision When You’re Too Afraid To Make a Decision
I have asked you questions before and you have given amazingly awesome answers and totally helped me out…and now I have a really specific personal question that I am hoping you and your readers will tell me what to do…no, like really tell me exactly what to do and I will do it…think of it as one of those chose your plot books you read as a kid only it will direct my life not a plot. I turned 30 in December, I have a husband and a 4.4 year old. For the first 3.3 years of my daughter’s life I worked in a non-profit that was VERY demanding for people who were not particularly nice. I was worn out and left last year. I got a new job…when I interviewed it was part time…when they hired me they brought me on as full time.
I have worked here for a little more than a year now and while I love the institution I work for, I have had many issues in this job too. Most focus around the fact that this position didn’t really exist before I started and I have had little to no direction, I worked my butt off for 6 months and was then told I was ‘failing’ and had 5K of my salary taken away from me (taking me down to slightly less than I was making at my old job), later I was apologized to for the remarks and essentially given back parts of the responsibilities they took from but not the money. To top it off I work more than an hour away from home now and am still putting in 50 hour weeks and there are two people in the office who really dislike me. All in all I went from one toxic workplace to another.
I made the decision a few months ago that this was really hurting me as a person and I began looking for new work, part time, so I could be home with my daughter more before she goes off to kindergarten. I was offered a part-time position at a library that it only a few miles from my house; 25 hours a week at only 1 dollar less an hour than I make now, but no benefits (I am the insurance carrier for my family). I took it and then I tried to resign at work…and this is where all hell broke loose.
My executive director (my direct boss) was devastated. He didn’t accept my resignation and pleaded with me to go home and think about it…I came back the next day but never got a chance to talk to him and then ended up coming in after being home all weekend to try and resign again and he was just heartbroken…and this made me heartbroken and for the first time in my life, I cried at work. I cried when I had to give a copy of my letter to my HR person. She was one of the people who disliked me and then wham, 180 degrees, she is asking me to stay and asking what I would need to change in my position to stay.
Today my executive director came into my office to talk about the process of covering my responsibilities after I was gone and it turned in to “well if we offered you part time..and then what if we did this and this” and before I knew it I was agreeing to work part time and write out the job description for what my responsibilities would be and what this would look like and in my head I am thinking “Okay, I can work at the library Tues and Weds and tell them I can no longer do Thurs and instead I will work here Thurs and Fri and the library Saturday.”
And in conclusion: WTF? I am the type of person that tries to make everyone happy and I am a pushover and I know that is what is going on here…my husband is angry with me for giving up full-time work and is afraid of what this will do to our finances, though he really dislikes where I work now and doesn’t want me to stay. My friends are angry at me for thinking about staying because they were there for all the shit that went on this last year, my mom thinks I am putting everyone else’s needs ahead of my daughter’s. No matter what I do I feel I am letting everyone down…my husband, my daughter, my boss (who I do really like); my possible new boss at the library who was sooo excited to have me.
And I can’t even step back and say to myself “well what do you want to do”…because I don’t have the faintest clue anymore. I like the idea of working at the library and being home more but I have school loans and insurance and after that will have very little money left. I like, in theory, the idea of working part time at my current job but fear that it will turn into me doing the same ridiculous feats of job strength but in less hours. How do I do both and still stay sane?
What do I do? Do I try and do both? Until it comes crashing down around me? Do I just walk back into work tomorrow and do yet another about face and say “no, stop pushing me”? Do I just stop showing up to work and move into a cave in the woods? A boss from years ago once said to me that my biggest pitfall is that I lack confidence in myself and my decisions and today my current boss told me the exact same thing, that I lack confidence in myself, my abilities and my ideas and decisions. He said this to convince me that my voice is important at the table here, but I know it also applies to the situation overall. I feel so not confident at this moment and I need someone to lift up this rock so that I can move out from behind this hard place.
Usually I read a few questions before choosing one for the Smackdown. Some weeks I know EXACTLY what question I want to tackle — ooh, cloth diapers! Ooh, mother-in-law drama! Ooh, how to get your kid to sleep/nap/eat/nurse/stop doing that really annoying thing!
Other weeks I’m less immediately inspired and have to think about it for awhile. Do I really have a good answer for that question? Is that question really all that different from ones I’ve already answered? Is that question missing some key information that could potentially change my advice? (You’d be surprised how many advice-seekers forget to include important stuff like their baby’s age. Or whether a behavior has been going on for weeks or just two days.)
Today, however, I read exactly one question. This one! And I couldn’t get it copy-and-pasted over fast enough.
That’s not to say that I have a great, perfect answer to your question, though. Because frankly, I feel like more people’s advice and input is pretty much the LAST THING ON EARTH you need.
As a fellow people-pleaser, I hear you. I feel you! But the more people you open up to and seek guidance from, the more conflicting opinions and judgment you’re going to receive. And the more guilt you’re going to lay on yourself because OMG, if you do X, you’ll be letting so-and-so down. But if you do Z, so-and-so-and-so will probably be disappointed in you. Now you want to add an Internet Advice Person and her comment section to the cacophony of opinions? Gurl, no.
So you’re stuck in a situation where no one wins. You’ve internalized everyone else‘s needs and wants and random-ass opinions (your friends are ANGRY at you over this? your mom is giving you mommy war-style guilt trips? SCREW ALL DAT YO) and it’s now impossible to separate out what YOU want because you just want everybody to be happy and agree with your decision and not be mad or disappointed and well…that’s just not going to happen.
I want you to go sit somewhere, by yourself. It can be a quiet room in your house, a yoga class or a noisy coffeehouse. I don’t care, because you’re going to sit somewhere and practice tuning out all these external opinions and start listening for YOURS. You’re going to visualize building up a mental wall around yourself (or a cocoon, if that imagery is more soothing to you — I personally tend to go with images of strength like brick walls when I’m feeling weak or wishy-washy, but YMMV). You’re going to hunker down with your own personal pros/cons list and NOBODY ELSE’S. Because this….
“And I can’t even step back and say to myself “well what do you want to do”…because I don’t have the faintest clue anymore.”
…is what you need to figure out. You don’t need more opinions or someone to come in and boss you around and give you the “easy” way out by telling you what to do (and thus absolve you from the consequences if the decision turns out badly down the road). (Yeah. I KNOW THAT TRICK.) That won’t fix the ongoing problem of being a pushover who is scared of her own agency and too timid to own her skills and decisions. Because yeah, sometimes we make decisions that turn out to be wrong. Sometimes we have to own the fact that we chose poorly and have to undo a mess we made. It’s just part of life, and of being a human being.
People like us tend to be REALLY hard on ourselves when we make a mistake, and we let that mistake get us “stuck” moving forward because we question our ability to make ANY OTHER CHOICE EVER. (Ask me about choosing preschools sometime and watch me crumble into a small dusty pile of dryer lint right before your very eyes!) You left one bad job and ended up at another bad job. That wasn’t your fault; that’s just the way it shakes out sometime. You made the best decision you could with the information you had at the time. The new job clearly wasn’t being straight with you (part time vs. full time; unclear and unrealistic expectations, etc.), so the fact that you ended up in another toxic environment isn’t necessarily your fault. Some of the specifics (accepting the withdrawn duties back without the $5,000, being overly worried about people who don’t “like” you) are probably due to your personality and aversion to conflict, but you recognize those parts of yourself and realized you needed to get away from that place and those people.
But your exit ended up being a lot more fraught than you were expecting. Okay. It’s time to make the best decision you can with the information you have at this time. Brick up your wall or curl into your cocoon. Your friends and your mom? Nope. Irrelevant. Not allowed in. Your boss’ distress at your leaving? Nope. Not your problem or your mess. If you were so irreplaceable and wonderful he should have made damn sure you were happy (and given you that $5,000 in salary back, jerkface). The new offer can certainly stay on the table, just strip all the emotions and guilt off of it. Same with the library job. Your potential boss will be just fine if you turn it down; do not allow his/her potential disappointment into your Fortress of Decision-Making Solitude.
Your husband and daughter matter, of course. Work decisions always need to be made with our family’s needs in mind. I admit I don’t like the sound of your husband being angry at your for stepping down to part-time work, since it means somewhere along the way a real conversation about this plan needed to happen, and didn’t. Do not go lightly into a situation that will bring a lot of fighting and stress over money into your marriage. Do you have a solid plan for insurance? COBRA? Private insurance? The option to purchase insurance from his work, or is he thinking about changing jobs and might find one with full benefits? Have you run the numbers and are confident you can cover your bills? Do you have a plan to move back to full time once your daughter goes to kindergarten or is he worried you’re torpedoing your future options? Talk about this. Get on the same page.
Then back to the Fortress you go. If you have his support for the part-time plan and you both agree the benefits for your daughter (and your mental health) will make the financial sacrifices worth it, pick one of the jobs you have in front of you. Re-read the email you sent me; I kind of feel like you know which job you want to take, but are too tied up in all the EMOTIONS TO ELEVENTY and are afraid to trust your instincts. You ask some good what-ifs about sticking with the current job (same crazy amount of work for less money and [I’m guessing] no benefits) since you’ve been there for a year and know the place CLEARLY has a high level of dysfunction. But then again, make sure that you’re not looking at the library job as a move of CLOSE ENOUGH, I’LL TAKE IT, BECAUSE PANNNIC.
It could be that the right option is actually Option C, none of the above, and you go back to job searching for awhile. Meanwhile, you stick with your current job and focus on transforming yourself into a Game of Thrones Khaleesi-style badass who will unleash some dragons up in this bitch, if anyone dares walk all over you. They’ve all realized you’re really important to them. Now YOU just need to realize that, and act accordingly.
Or you walk away. Because too late, too bad. Because the library job really is what you want.
(No, I don’t think doing both jobs should be a real option, since you only seem to be considering that out of terror of letting people down, even though you know you will eventually collapse/lose your mind [and let somebody down in the process, either a boss or your family]. That seems like taking the all the downsides of all the decisions and rolling them into one recipe for work/life balance disaster, just because you don’t want to make anyone “mad” at you for resigning.)
But you’re just gonna have to figure this all out for yourself. You can do it! You’re awesome and I believe in you and all of your instincts, and your friends and your mom can shut it.
(Has anyone here read that <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0385349947/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0385349947&linkCode=as2&tag=alpmom-20″>Lean In</a> book? I have not. I heard there are no zombies in it and lately everything I read is about zombies. Would you recommend it for Now Hiring or do you think it wouldn’t be particularly helpful?)
Published April 29, 2013. Last updated March 12, 2018.