How to make a difficult decision—and feel good about it

You’re going to need to find your “sweet spot” first.

January 19, 2016

Have you ever had to make a decision that seemed impossible? There are few things more stressful than being faced with such a dilemma and having no clue what to do.

After all, it’s hard to know if you’ll make the right decision—or end up living with the biggest mistake of your life. Should I change jobs? Should I buy this house? Should I marry this person? Decisions of this magnitude often cause a whirlwind of stress and confusion. 

For example, when I was a young auditor making my way up the corporate ladder, I was offered an opportunity to join a competing firm. When faced with this difficult decision, I tried a familiar tactic: I made a pro/con list. Pay, work/life balance, advancement opportunities, and commute were all factors. However, after staring blankly at my list for what seemed like hours, I still couldn’t make up my mind. 

I thought of that experience recently when I participated in the 2015 AICPA Leadership Academy. One of our sessions covered how making decisions can go from a nightmare to a piece of cake if you apply one simple principle: Always make the decision that most closely aligns with your values. 

This practice is called finding your “sweet spot”—or the spot that overlaps your personal passions (your values) with your strengths (what you are good at) and what others value. Ever wonder what your calling in life is? Some would argue that if you find your sweet spot, you’ll find that calling. 

How do you find your sweet spot? It starts with knowing your values. It’s hard to make values-based decisions if you have no idea what you’re passionate about. Some of my values include honesty, kindness, perspective, and judgment, so I wouldn’t function well in a stereotypical “Mad Men” setting where back-stabbing and skullduggery are the norm. I would be unengaged and frustrated that my passions weren’t being put to use. 

After you understand your values, the second step involves identifying your strengths. What are you good at? My personal strengths include communicating with others, positivity, and making emotional connections. Basically, I’m not maximizing my strengths if I’m sitting in a cubicle eight hours a day, 365 days a year staring at a computer screen and never seeing another soul. 

Finally, what do you do that is rewarded by others? Determine how your values and strengths can be used in a way that is valuable to, and recognized by, others. Until you are able to align these aspects, odds are you haven’t found your sweet spot.

After participating in Leadership Academy, I retroactively realized that I somehow made the right decision on whether to change jobs based on an attempt to find my sweet spot. The culture of the new firm was overall more in line with my values and strengths and what I sought in rewards—so I took the new job.

At the time, I wasn’t consciously thinking about this conceptual framework—at least not as explicitly as it was explained at Leadership Academy. Even so, it made the decision to switch firms—which once seemed daunting and impossible to make—an easy call. 

Remember this the next time work or life in general presents you with a tough choice. Making decisions based on what most closely aligns with your values is the easiest way to ensure that you too will make the right decision and feel great about the result.

Caleb Bullock is a supervisor at Somerset CPAs, P.C. in Indianapolis.

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