01 Mar

“To get anywhere, or even to live a long time, a man has to guess, and guess right, over and over again, without enough data for a logical answer.” - Robert Heinlein
I celebrated my 47th birthday about a week ago, and birthdays have a tendency to make us think about our lives. Of course, the more birthdays you’ve had, the more life you have to think about.
In 47 years, I’ve made countless decisions. Some decisions were relatively inconsequential. What should I wear on the first day of school? What do I want to eat for lunch? Others required a bit of thought and, for me at the time, felt life-changing. Where do I want to go to college? Should I quit my job and go to law school? Is my boyfriend the man I should marry?
In a recent conversation with my brother (whose brain never ceases to humble me), the subject of decisions came up, and he told me something that I had never thought of and didn’t understand, at first. He said that people often judge a decision by its outcome, and that is completely wrong. In other words, a good decision can have a bad outcome, and a bad decision can have a good outcome.  For example, you might interview with a company, ask important questions and get answers that align with your preferences, meet the people you will be working with and like them, and decide to take the job. Based on all the information you had at the time, your decision to join the company was a good one; however, if the company folds eight months later, and you find yourself looking for a job again, your good decision had a bad outcome.
In the same way, you could make a “bad” decision, but, by sheer, dumb luck, the outcome can be good. For example, you could (in this very hypothetical scenario) marry an extremely wealthy man three times your age who you do not love and for whom you feel no attraction, and the man might die soon after you are married. You might then inherit all his wealth and homes and properties and live like a queen for the rest of your long life. Most would say that marrying solely for money is not the best decision, but you can’t argue with the outcome (for you, not your unfortunate husband)!
If you can’t judge a decision by the outcome, though, how can you determine whether the decision was good or bad? My brother might say that you have to look objectively at the facts you had before you at the time and the available options to see whether, logically, the decision you made was the one most likely to have a good outcome. But even this requires that you determine what that good outcome you desire should be, and what if the thing you think is a good outcome for you at the time really isn’t?
It may indeed seem like we are guessing sometimes, just picking one of the options and hoping for the best. It’s no wonder that we judge our decisions by the results they produce in our lives. Perhaps, rather than ponder whether the decisions we’ve made are good or bad, however, we should ask ourselves some different questions: Am I at peace with the decision I made? Did I learn something from the experience? Am I a better person now? Am I, as a result, more prepared for my next decision?
If the answer to these questions is yes, then maybe the decision was a good one, after all.
- Kathryn Amurra

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