*Image via Sir the Label.
How did you know it was the right time to move back to D.C.? How did you decide how many children to have? How did you choose the school your children attend? How did you know to switch jobs? How did you decide to start your own business?
I’ve fielded these questions — and other javelins aimed at major life decisions — many times over the course of the past few years. I am flattered to be trusted with these matters of the heart and equally aware that I cannot answer them accurately. Because the truth is — you never know. There is no right time, no correct choice; there is only now or next year or never, and the things you did and did not do. If you are looking for the correct expression on the other side of the equal sign, there is none. I am not writing from a place of nihilism: these choices do matter and will shape your life, and I believe we are always guided by forces greater than us such that there is profound meaning in the way life unfolds. Instead, I mean to reassure you. I mean to help you down from the high-wire, to ease some of the pressure you have placed upon yourself, to let you know that if I am staring at a big life decision, I try to not let myself fixate on whether I am doing the right or wrong thing at the right or wrong time, and instead remind myself:
+Very little in life is permanent. If I choose something and hate it, there are almost always paths out or back.
+Confirmation bias is a beautiful thing when it comes to the aftermath of making a big choice — it’s the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation that the decision I’ve made is the right one. Which is to say, I make the choice, and my subconscious immediately goes to work building a nest around it.
+This is your one wild and precious. My father has always encouraged me to take the chance, try the new job, keep moving forward, exercise optimism in the face of change. In his words: “You’re gonna love it.”
+Do you prefer the pain of being stuck or the pain of new growth? This is my way of reminding myself: don’t let fear of the new override dissatisfaction with my present.
+Life is about making educated guesses using invariably imperfect, incomplete information. I will never have a full and accurate report outlining every pro and con. I can only make the best choice based on the limited insight I have right now. This framing always charges me up, leading me to figure myself as the chief executive officer of my own life. After all, heads of business are constantly making complex decisions based on fragmentary information — they’re making their best guess. I can, too.
+Trust your intuition. I used to hate this hippie-dippie advice, but I have found — especially in my 30s — that listening to my gut has rarely steered me wrong, because it means I am evaluating opportunities against my own internal value set. The older I get, the more I realize that a peaceful, fulfilling life has a lot to do with seeking alignment between the everyday stuff of living and my core values. This is true in matters big and small. For example, the past few weekends, I have taken my children on short hikes. Every time I spend an hour in nature with them, I feel a profound sense of intactness radiate through me: I am living and modeling for my children some of the small virtues to which I routinely aspire: quiet, curiosity, naturalism. (As C.S. Lewis put it: “I am a product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms.“). I promise that listening to yourself will rarely leave you high and dry. It may be helpful to spend some time reflecting on your core value set — you know them, of course, but sometimes enumerating them and holding them up against whatever decision you are facing will help. I think this exercise may prove useful in decisions like where to send your children to school and whether to switch jobs or not.
+Deliberations can vary in length. Some decisions come quickly, usually because a time-bound offer forces your hand, but don’t worry too much about the length of your decision-making process. I’ve had some friends say, “Oh, we talked about it but we just never made up our mind so I guess it didn’t matter and we dropped it.” Life is in constant flux. A single phone call can rearrange your entire world. Sometimes what feels wrong now will feel right in a year, or two years, or ten. My point is that it’s good practice to revisit the conversations that matter to you — they aren’t dead just because you’ve said “no for now.” I think this is especially true when contemplating a big move (especially one “back home”) or a second or third child. Do not feel that a “no” today is a permanent foreclosure. Authentic people change! We learn, we unground ourselves. Mr. Magpie and I talked for years about moving back to D.C. before we actually did it, and it felt like this: “No way – not now – no – not now – of course not – no – no – no – what if we did? – I think we could – yes – yes – yes.”
What do you think, Magpies? Do you have any helpful strategies for approaching big life decisions? Please share.
As always —
+What was the first book or movie you recall having a strong emotional reaction to?
+If you want more Magpie, you can subscribe to my Magpie Email Digest for a weekly roundup of top essays, musings, conversations, and finds.
+Thanks to a Magpie for pointing out that these amazing Citizens’ jeans I’ve been eyeing for the season ahead in the coolest brown color are fully stocked here.
+Thoroughly enjoying this audiobook. I tuned in during my routine dental cleaning yesterday and it was a fantastic way to pass the time and distract myself.
+Speaking of VB, you can get an extra 15% off their sale section with code SUMMER15. I think I’m going to treat myself to this mixed-media sweater for fall! So interesting, and love the collar especially. (End ups being $113 instead of $448?!). Also fabulous: this blazer and this shirting stripe dress.
+Speaking of collared tops, I haven’t mentioned this in a long while since my babies are not babies anymore, but Kissy Kissy’s peter pan collar onesies ARE THE BEST. The best quality, the sweetest whipstitch detail; look great under everything. They last forever. I handed all of mine down! Worth the extra $$ because they last and last.
+A fab wedding guest dress for under $350.
+Thanks to the Magpie who discovered this denim dress. Very…Ulla/Isabel Marant? Imagine with sandals like these now and flats like these later (LOVE in the chocolate brown — these are the most comfortable flats ever, right out the box).
+Neely & Chloe just launched the prettiest patterned garment bags. These feel perfectly-suited to a bridal weekend…
+A fun (bold!) sandal.