Deciding When You’re Undecided

The older I get, the less my decisions feel like decisions and the more they feel like an uncovering and honoring of what I already know. I’m making the right moves when it feels like I’m returning to myself rather than becoming someone new.

I write a lot about my decision to withdraw from my Ph.D. program. That’s because it’s one of the most significant, life-altering decisions I’ve ever made.

And yet.

It didn’t feel much like a decision at all.

In my ideal world, I would have decided to stay and graduate. I would have found my rhythm, churned out publications and presentations, and wrote a groundbreaking dissertation. I was looking for every reason to override what I already knew in my gut for the comfort of remaining in place. I wanted to choose comfort over surrender. Certainty over uncertainty. Even though I was unhappy.

It wasn’t until I quieted my mind (doubts, what-ifs, pros-and-cons) and the outside noise (advice, suggestions, research) that my intuition finally had space to rise and make itself known. I firmly believe that everything we need to make a decision already lives inside of us. The problem isn’t knowing what to do; the problem is that we don’t trust ourselves.

To remedy this, I’ve starting giving my fear the floor. I sit with a pencil and paper and let all my anxieties, concerns, and self-doubts speak up. I acknowledge my fear and show it gratitude for just trying to keep me safe.

And then I let wisdom have a turn. For example, if my fear said: “What if you drop out and everyone thinks you’re not intelligent or hard-working and you can’t find a job?” then wisdom might say: “What if you withdraw and end up in a career that fulfills you?”

Another example is if fear said: “What if you move to a new city but it doesn’t meet your expectations and you end up lonely?” then wisdom might say: “What if you move and the city exceeds your expectations and you find the adventure and connection you crave?”

Both outcomes are equally possible. Not all fear is irrational; it might have some important points worth considering. But one thing I’ve learned is that making decisions from a place of fear does not work. With fear guiding us, we might think we have control, but it always leaves us broken-hearted, disillusioned, more anxious, unsatisfied, bored, lonely, or complacent. It either sends us straight into things that aren’t right for us or keeps us from the things that are.

This is not to say that our intuition always tells us what we want to hear. That inner voice, God, the universe—no matter what you call it—only promises to show you what you NEED, not necessarily what you want.

When I was a grad student at the University of Texas at Austin, I would walk past the famous tower on the way from class to my car every day. Engraved on the front of the tower reads: Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. What I didn’t understand then is that first the truth will scare the living shit out of you. You’ll try to fight the truth, ignore it, or run from it. The truth might force you to admit wrongdoing, face your biggest fear, acknowledge failure, and run straight toward the unknown. And that’s precisely what it takes to become free.

The scariest part of the jump is the anticipatory walk to the ledge. After the jump, we revel in the exhilaration and courage it required of us. No, not every leap of faith leads to a soft landing. But I can’t think of a single one I’ve taken that wasn’t worth the scars sustained.

Do you know that feeling when you fall in love? It’s hard to put into words. I think it’s why artists, musicians, and writers spend their entire lives trying. The closest I’ve ever come to describing it is this:

It wasn’t a thought. It wasn’t a feeling. It was a landing. A homecoming. An unexpected knowing.

It didn’t seem like a peek into the future of what we would become. It seemed like a quiet, inner acceptance of what we already were. Perhaps what we had always been and would always be.

Love is a mysterious force because it doesn’t require logical decision-making skills. All it requires is the courage to jump without certainty of a soft landing.

So, how to decide when you’re undecided? Ask a different question if you want a new answer. Allow your fear to speak. Allow your wisdom to respond. Then take the prefrontal cortex out of it. Get still. Get quiet. Pay attention to your body. What does returning to yourself feel like?

I once heard Bob Goff say in a podcast interview: “We don’t need more information. What we need is a safer place to process the information we already have. Not being told what to do…but who we already are.”