Prev Next
Indecision at work

How To Make a Decision When You’re Too Afraid To Make a Decision

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

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.

Now Hiring?

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=”″>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?)


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon


  • Melissa

    April 29, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    Holy Moses, I swear I was you about ten years ago. I worked for a terrible-to-employees but very well known non-profit that hired me into a job that they made up on the fly during my interview, with no direction at all and no concept of what my role was in the company. Later I was fired for my “failing,” which wasn’t surprising to me because even at my exit interview they had NO clue what I was supposed to be doing and I found out then that they weren’t even sure which DEPARTMENT I was categorized in. Oy. But that turned out to be a huge relief. Thank you for the unemployment check while I finish out this graduate degree and begin work in the field I chose.

    What I’m saying is, YOU WILL BE FINE. You will be fine. This decision has been made messy by people who don’t seem to care about you so much as what you can do for them. So what do you think is best for you and your family? Get talking with your partner. and listening. And then make the decision.

    You might decide wrong. You wouldn’t be the first to do that 🙂 But you’ll have a decision, and start on the path to figuring things out one way or another. Good luck to you!

  • C

    April 29, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    nice answer. there’s a book called “decisive” that the OP might enjoy. i dont think Lean In is relevant to her situation. Lean In is inspiring but doesnt say much about this level of decision-making.  i will second Amy’s advice though that the world is not made up of only two jobs (current and library) – that there may be some third great option. 

  • Stephanie

    April 29, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    I am like you and Amy, a people pleaser. I’m not very good at asserting myself because I don’t want to “fail” anyone. And then inaction sets in which is way, way worse. Like amy says, listen to yourself. Don’t listen to anyone else, except maybe your husband, but even he seems like he hasn’t been the best at being supportive. A toxic work environment seeps through everything, believe me. Just remember that.

  • Hazel

    April 29, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    Yowza, the stress!  I think you have 2 important factors to consider:  

    1) getting everything straight with your husband – if he is 100% opposed to you going part-time, then you need to figure out how to make him feel comfortable with it, or how to compromise, and

    2) YOU!  Are you happy with your current workday at all?  It’s your life, and you don’t want to waste it feeling miserable.  If you love the far-away job, then fine… but if you don’t?  Will you like it if it’s part-time?  Your co-workers aren’t suddenly going to be best friends all of a sudden if they haven’t been before.  If the commute makes you crazy, the work is unfulfilling, and the co-workers not that great… is it worth it?  On the other hand, will the library job make you happy?

    Seems to me that your husband is just really afraid of money problems, which is understandable.  My boyfriend is the same way, and sometimes it drives me nuts.  Although, at the end of the day, he just wants our family to be peaceful and happy, so we’d make the sacrifices necessary for me to have a part-time job that brings more happiness to our family.

  • Cheryl S.

    April 29, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    Amy gave a great response. First, your mom, your boss and your possible new boss DO NOT MATTER. With the bosses as much as you want them to like you, this is a business transaction. And as for your mom, you are a grown up. She can certainly give you her opinion. Great. But, in making the decision, the only people that matter are YOU, your hubby and your daughter.
    You and your hubby need to sit down and talk all this out. Then, you need to decide what you want to do. Taking both jobs is NOT an option.
    Good luck!

  • Kacie

    April 29, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    Love Amy’s advice.

    I wanted to mention from the health insurance perspective, you’d probably be eligible for COBRA (assuming that employer meets certain qualifications) but it can be very expensive.

    But, private insurance (even catastrophic level) ought to be available to your family. 

    Hopefully one of those two options would work between now and 2014 when the big health care changes are a-comin’. 

  • Veronica M

    April 29, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    Oh do I know where you are at!! What helped me was filling out this very objective form for all the options (part time library, part time both places, staying at full time, etc) and then the forms get scored. Based on those “scores” you can see what is working. It takes out the subjective oh my god I am making a scary choice. If you are interested in the worksheets send me an email and I will send it over. Good luck dariln! it is scary but you will all three make it through. HUGS! vero at brinikk dot com

  • Suzy Q

    April 29, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    I just wanted to add another thing.  I think the people at your non-profit job are much more worried about THEMSELVES and their work load if you leave than they are about you.  If you stay, they can go back to being assholes and won’t have to figure out your job or how to hire/train a new person.  If you stay, if makes THEIR lives easier. And if you stay part-time, they can figure out new ways to screw you, i.e., no insurance.

    You might also consider the actual costs of commuting two hours a day.  Gas ain’t cheap, commuting wears on your car and your nerves, and that’s a lot of cumulative time away from your family.

    • -k-

      May 1, 2013 at 3:52 pm

      Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. This is the abusive partner who turns on the charm when you threaten to leave. The work environment is not going to change.

  • Lesley

    April 29, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    Love Amy’s advice. You have to get into your own cocoon with your own heart and make your own decision. Absolutely.

    As for books, I’d recommend ‘Daring Greatly’ here before ‘Lean In’, simply because I’d want to try to give you a path to realize your own amazing, brilliant worth that is not based on how far you commute, how good you are at paying for insurance, or how many people you please.

  • Kerry

    April 29, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    Since your a people pleaser….would it be helpful to think how thrilled the person who desperately needs a job now and has been looking for one for months will be to get whichever job you don’t take? You may never meet them, but imagining their happiness might take the edge of disappointing either the new boss or the old boss.

    • betttina

      April 30, 2013 at 12:44 pm

      Kerry, I love that! What a great perspective.

  • Sarah in Georgia

    April 29, 2013 at 9:30 pm

    I’ve been in toxic workplaces–they do take so much out of you! Cut yourself some slack as you start making your decision and realize that part of the challenge in deciding is precisely because it has been a toxic environment.

    I did hear the advice recently that when you are weighing decisions, it can sometimes be helpful to only write down the pros and not list both pros and cons. The theory is that a pro in one list (shorter commute) is also a con on the other side (longer commute) and therefore gets more weight that it maybe should.

    Good luck to you (and your family) in this process! 

  • Sarah

    April 30, 2013 at 8:37 am

    I am a therapist and I often suggest a a pros and cons list to my clients but additionally, I have them write down their top 3-5 priorities in life and see which option lines up with these priorities.
    And be honest…if money is a top priority for you (sometimes it just has to be) then put it on the list. Think of these priorities completely separate from work priorities.

    I agree that your husband has to be a big part of this decision. you wouldn’t want him to make a decision that would affect you and your family without considering your opinion. You are a team and you need to make a team decision.

  • Liz

    April 30, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    I have so been there. Another way to know if you’re making the right decision for YOU is to imagine you’ve made the decision each way, and imagine your life six months from know living with that decision. Or flip a coin. Whichever way you hope it will land while it’s in the air? That’s how you go.

  • Brenda Flynn

    April 30, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    I read Lean In, and found it really useful to me, in my life. The key complaint about it is that it’s not for every working woman out there. I’m not sure it would really speak to Now Hiring’s challenges, but would definitely recommend it to others! It does have some very interesting bits about women’s tendency to self-sabotage, and about ways in which we need to tackle problems differently than guys!

  • KJ

    April 30, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    Here are my thoughts:
    1) It sounds like you have an awful lot of leverage at your new job right now, given that you have a legitimate option to walk away and how much they want you.  If your cocoon-made decision is to try staying with it, you could ask for things like a) your $5k (or the hourly equivelant) back AND THEN SOME, b) clear objectives for you as an employee and how/when/by whom you’ll be assessed, c) health insurance even if you’re part time, etc.  And if they can’t do that for you, then pffft. Library time.
    2) As Amy mentioned, it seems like a short spell of part-time work where you may need to dip into savings to cover insurance etc is a very different proposition than moving forever to a part-time gig (and hopefully your husband would get this?).
    3) Because I see so many other glimmers of myself in what you write, I think it may be worth stepping back to make sure you’re realistically assessing people’s responses to your decision.  Of course I agree with Amy that their feelings about your decision are NOT YOUR PROBLEM to deal with, but also: if you look at the world the same way I do, it could be that your “angry” friends are actually just a little worried about you?  And that your Mom maybe has some faint concern that your child gets enough mommy-time, but will support you regardless of the decision that you make?  Maybe I’m way off base, but I do think it would be worth really checking yourself on how you’re interpreting people’s responses before you let them trouble you too much.
    Good luck!  

    PS Lean In is great but may just complicate your thoughts in this particular situation?  Or at least not be too relevant.

  • Olivia

    April 30, 2013 at 8:56 pm

    This sounds like excellent advice to me. I want to add on to what Amy said about not worrying about the bosses. I have learned when it comes to work, you really do have to put yourself first. No matter how great a boss may be, he/she will always put business first so you have to look out for your own interests.

  • Lotuslove

    April 30, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    I was in a similar situation with a major career fork in the road before me, and having trouble choosing which way to go. This article by Danielle Laporte helped me a lot.

    “The foundation of a good relationship with intentions and goals is keeping in mind that the primary aim of setting and working toward them is to feel the way you want to feel.

    Turn your ambitions inside out.”

    It helped me approach the process from another direction – how do I want to feel when I’m at work? How do I want to feel when I’m at home with my child? And then see which job options allowed me to come closest to that. Hope this helps you too!!

  • Marnie

    May 1, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    Fellow people-pleaser here! You’ve gotten some great advice here! I wanted to reiterate to try the pro/con list but up it a notch. Your problem is you are caught up with the emotional pieces in your head, you can’t see the data and facts. You need a decision matrix, my friend!! Take a look at this link for a good description of what this is:

    I’ve done this for many life decisions. New houses, new daycare provider, etc. It allows me to objectively review my facts without getting lost into the emotional pulls in my head. Give it a try!!