I have a friend in Virginia who has a very difficult time making decisions if she’s presented with more than three or four options. She calls it “analysis paralysis.” She starts thinking about all the things that will happen with each decision and what she’d lose by not going with the others and just keeps cycling through without being able to make up her mind.
I have something similar, only mine works backwards. I keep thinking about all the decisions in my life and how it seems the vast majority of them have been wrong. For example, I could have invested in Amazon back when it was losing money every quarter. A lot of people thought that Internet sales were the next big thing, myself included, but I thought Wal-mart would take over or there’d be another company that did the same thing as Amazon, only better. I thought their business model must not be very good to have lost money every quarter but one in their history. With their meteoric rise, I’ve been kicking myself since, telling myself I could have gotten it for less than $50 in 2008 and as of now, it’s worth $339.04. I could have invested in Google or Apple, too, but I didn’t see how Google would make enough money and thought Apple products were only for graphic artists. I keep telling myself I could have been rich, and I would be if only I were smarter. There are a few problems with this:
1. I don’t know for certain what would have happened had I made a different decision. Let’s say I had invested in Amazon. If I had been able to make nearly seven times as much as I put in within just six years, I probably would have been able to buy a small home, perhaps in Virginia, which would have made it difficult to leave there when God called me to Colorado. If I hadn’t bought a home in Virginia, I would have almost certainly gotten one when I got married, which would have made moving to Houston when He called us here much harder. In all of these missed opportunities, God has a purpose. Even if I hadn’t bought a home and we just moved here with a good chunk of money, I don’t know where our other decisions would have led us, but those decisions affect who we meet, whether we’re in a car accident, where I look for jobs, and a host of other things.
2. I analyze only what I missed out on. It’s human nature to look only at what you could have gotten and totally forget about what you missed unless it’s blindingly obvious. We hear a few stories about people who couldn’t get to the airport on time and the flight they were supposed to be on crashed. Most of the time, though, we look at the stock we should have bought, the woman we should have asked out, the life decision that would have worked out beautifully. Are there times we miss out on opportunities through fear, laziness, bad attitudes, etc.? Yes, but we don’t know how they would have worked out and there are some awful decisions we’ve avoided as well. Were you ever tempted to invest in a stock that later tanked? Did you miss out on a job with a company that went under? Did you not date someone and then find out later they had a screw loose? Be fair in your analysis. You’ll likely find that most of the results of your decisions lie somewhere between awesome and horrible, meaning that you’ve missed out on as much bad as good.
3. I’m analyzing decisions by their results, rather than by my decision-making process. If I skip work one day and buy a Powerball ticket and win, was skipping work a good decision? Most of us would answer “yes” pretty emphatically. I would disagree. It’s a decision that worked out exceptionally well, but that doesn’t make it a good decision. Likewise, if I went to work as normal and got t-boned by someone who ran a red light, that doesn’t make going to work a bad decision. A decision should be analyzed by the information I had available at the time, my thought process to arrive at my decision, and how much of my decision was based on logical reasoning rather than on impulsive emotions. When I decided to marry Leah, I took care to separate reasoning from emotion as far as I could. I thought about our fit together with personality, attraction, opinions on major subjects, interests, etc. I knew I loved her, but I wouldn’t have married her if I could not reasonably see long-term love rather than a love that lasts just a couple years.
4. Endless analysis keeps me from forgiving myself. This is perhaps the most important one. We’re commanded to forgive; if we don’t, we won’t be forgiven. (Matthew 6:15) This includes forgiving ourselves. Forgiving yourself is probably one of the most difficult things you’ll ever have to do, yet it is also one of the most necessary. Everyone makes mistakes, plenty of them. Even those people whom you look at and wonder how their lives got so perfect have made their share and continue to make more. You’ll make more mistakes in the future. Just don’t dwell on them. Dwelling on them puts fear in your heart of making any more changes or decisions and prevents you from being able to analyze new opportunities. Let your past decisions go and just move on. Staring at the past won’t change it any more than hoping for a better future without working for it will make it happen.
This post is mostly for myself. I’ve been struggling with all of these lately, fretting about frittering away so many opportunities to provide for my wife and the family we want to have. I don’t know what’s going to come in the future. All I know is that worrying about the past won’t help me to the future I want or, more importantly, the future God wants me to have.