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Don’t be scared, making big decisions is difficult but always worth it. By Pete Fellows

This article is about regret. Regret sneaks up on you. You fool yourself into believing that you are where you want to be, that you have chosen it - but what if you haven’t at all? What if you’ve done completely the opposite and you’ve run away from key decisions because you are too scared to make them? It’s far easier to decide not to decide than it is to actively choose to take action in a way that changes your circumstances.

Many of us make very few huge decisions in our lifetime. When you think back, how many decisions have you truly, honestly agonised over? For days, weeks even? Maybe you followed school with university as it was a natural expectation and then ended up as a patent attorney, trade mark attorney or lawyer? Did you honestly decide most of that? Or did you think that being an attorney might be a good career, apply to a few places and eventually get a job? I don’t want to undermine the struggle that some face when trying to enter the profession as it can be very difficult. But for many, their toughest decision may simply be choosing between similar offers from similar firms. That’s understandable of course, as during your early career it’s probably more important to get in to the profession than to worry too much beyond that. The same goes for other life decisions. Did you choose between a selection of potential partners or did you ultimately end up in relationship that just fell into place? Was buying your house a natural evolution at the time, or a truly active decision?

When you really think about it, I doubt that many of us make too many real decisions at all. Particularly where deciding on one route opens doors and at the same time closes others, where there is an actual fork in the road leading in completely opposite directions, where the impact of your decision will change relationships, will perhaps hurt someone or at least have a profound impact on them. Of course, we make micro decisions every day such as what to have for lunch, whether to go out with friends or stay in and watch TV. But the really big decisions, the ones you agonise over, are key points in your life that may only come about a handful of times if that. I’m not making the philosophical argument that life is predetermined of course. I’m simply saying that the circumstances of one’s birth, one’s upbringing and one’s interaction with others means that there may be a natural path for you to follow, and you could follow that road without a great deal of conscious decision making. I’m arguing that you should take more notice of your feet moving in front of you and stop once in a while to see where you might be heading. Look what is behind you and what is to the side - is this really where you want to be?

So where is this rumination leading to? First, it’s about accepting that you may not have as much time as you believe and that time is ticking more quickly than you think – moving jobs in your twenties is much easier than in your thirties, which is definitely easier than in your forties. It feels to me that there is a climate of decision malaise in this decade, perhaps as a product of the economic downturn. The aversion to any risk is a stagnant force, reinforcing what might be the malicious idea that the best decision is to accept what one has instead of considering that there might be something better. The skill is realising that something might be better when that something is presented to you.

As recruiters it is difficult for us to accept this malaise. Most of the time because the rationale presented to us for avoiding a choice is a delusion or falsehood, and because persuading people of this can be an exercise in total frustration. I realise you may doubt our motives. You may think we only want you to move in order to line our collective pockets. However, I can say that in our case at least, that kind of approach would swiftly backfire. If we were constantly advising people that poor career moves were in fact better for them, then we would quickly lose credibility. But we do think that fear of making a decision can hold people back. The reasons for waiting to move are often arbitrary – ‘I want to wait until I’m qualified’ – why? If there are options that would improve your circumstances now, why remain dissatisfied for another year or two? Why would you willingly put yourself through that? I find it incredibly difficult to understand. Part qualified attorneys move positions all of the time, and if you have a claw back for training costs in your contract your new firm will cover it. More importantly, you’re massively reducing your window of opportunity. What about all of those attorneys who ‘waited until they qualified’ in 2008, only to find there were no jobs at all for them to move to as a result of the recession? It is still much more difficult to move firms with over three years’ post qualified experience than it is as a newly qualified attorney as there is simply more demand for the latter. We know getting contacted by recruiters can be annoying, we realise that you may not be ready to move, but what’s the harm in hearing us out? Is your current employer really giving you everything you want? Or are you simply fearful of risking a change?

Decisions are difficult, I know that. I’ve made some very big ones myself that I agonised over and to this day I’m still not sure I did the right thing. Regret can gnaw at you - you wonder what would have happened if you had made different decisions and what opportunities would have opened up. But it is easier to handle if you considered and weighed up all of the options at the time. It’s crucial that you are at peace with your past self who made the best decision based on what they knew and what they believed would be better for them. Running away without any consideration, simply ignoring an opportunity (and I don’t just mean a choice between jobs), and then ending up in a situation that you wish you could change is much more difficult to take.

To labour the point further - whatever route you choose may lead to some of your own second guessing. No one can guarantee a favourable outcome, but don’t run away from it and don’t put it off. Most importantly, don’t decide not to do anything because that is a decision in itself and is quite often a very weak one that you may well regret. Staying put is not in and of itself a bad thing, but I would rather people actively decide to stay in a job because they have decided it is the best choice for their career. Staying where you are because you fear what would happen if you did anything else is just not good enough. Your future success may rely on you being just that little bit braver.

I’m encouraging you to be courageous. You know that girl/guy you see on the tube every day, maybe you should try speaking to them? You’ve always wanted to live somewhere else in the world, maybe you should really see if that is possible? Don’t let your career drag out with the same firm for the next 30 years of your life unless that is exactly and undoubtedly what you want. If you’re not sure it is, then the next time we try and get in touch with you, have a chat - it really can’t do any harm and you won’t regret it.

Are you struggling to make a big decision and want to talk it through? Why not give me a call or send an email to pete.fellows@fellowsandassociates.com

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