27 April 2012

Decision-Making Time

Welcome back. How are you at making decisions? I’m big on intuition (ask Myers or her mother, Briggs); but I’m kind of wishy-washy if I don’t have a mountain of information and the results of surveying at least half the people on the East Coast. 
Retired, I’m having a terrible time deciding what to do first. Life was so much easier before I retired. Go to work early, come home late, do what I could in the evening and on weekends, feel content. Now, by the end of the day, it’s what I could’a, should’a, would’a done.
Finally, a chance to use one of my sunset photos.

Thinking back, I’m grateful that when I had to make one my biggest decisions, one that changed my life, I had help from above. 
Oh, not that above, just the ionosphere.
I don’t remember if I’ve always been this indecisive. In the years before I retired, I was fortunate to team with a colleague who saw my gray areas as black and white. I didn’t necessary adopt his recommended decisions, but at least I had his unambiguous answers as a cushion.
I usually did follow his advice on the simple stuff. “Should we cancel the meeting? It’s supposed to snow.” What a relief to hear, “No, absolutely not.” Never mind that when winter weather threatened, he drove a 4-wheel-drive monster that was big enough to push snowplows out of his way.
He enjoyed attributing our decision-making differences to my academic and his military officer backgrounds, though I doubt he believed that. Anyway, I’ve known many in academia who, unlike me, never met a decision they had to dawdle over.  

My Big Decision
Getting back to the biggest, life-changing decision I ever agonized about, I had to decide whether or not to leave academia.

I had spent a year’s sabbatical leave in the Washington, DC, area, and I loved the change. A couple of years later, after I returned to academic life, an opportunity arose to switch careers and move back to the Washington area.  

Lining up the pros and cons with my wife, who is rarely decision-challenged, didn’t produce any clear answer. One never knows all the pros and cons, but in some cases, we weren’t even sure which was which.

I was ready to flip a coin until I was driving late one night, listening to the radio.

Different car, radio and time, but you get the idea.
In the Washington area, I used to listen to a 24-hour news-weather-traffic report radio station on the AM dial. In my academic habitat, over 300 miles away, I listened to a local station that broadcast at nearly the same frequency. 

Driving that night, I lost the local station. Trying to tune it in again, I was stunned to hear the Washington traffic report. I knew the report was being delivered by a propagating signal, not divine guidance. Still, when the ionosphere speaks, you’ve got to listen. And I never regretted the decision.

Wrap Up

Forced to live with our son’s cat, Henry, since last summer, I’ve struggled to understand his decision-making process and ability. I’ve no particular interest in ethology (i.e., animal behavior); it’s purely defensive on my part. I’ll tell you about it next Friday.

Thanks for stopping by. I think you'll like what's planned for next Tuesday's photo addendum.


  1. This is my favorite post ever! Thanks for writing about the "science" of decision making following whatever set of rules is in place at the important moments.

  2. Oh, and one more comment. Struggling with decisions every moment, every day, I freely offer support and advice to others. Try this link: http://wpr.org/regions/