Big Decisions:

How to Make Tough Choices for your Work and Career Successfully

What's A Big Decision

Most people will encounter many big decisions as they journey through their work and careers. A big decision can be a crucial decision point, a crossroads, or simply a time when everything changes and you have to decide what to do next. Big decisions include choices like: starting a family, finding or leaving a job, selling a business, or speaking up about wrongdoing at work. Big decisions can have tremendous individual, team, and organizational implications. Sometimes when you make a big decision and walk through one door, you find that other options are now closed, perhaps forever. Big decisions are important, difficult to make, and yet also exciting, because they pulse with opportunity.

What's The Research Behind Big Decision Making?

My collaborators and I interviewed 20 CEO's and executives at the top of their game as well as 40 MBA's and undergraduates just starting out in their careers to better understand how people make career and work choices when faced with big decisions. We analyzed their stories and decision strategies. We noticed a few interesting and unique aspects to their career decision making. First, we noticed that quite a few people found that their personal relationships, their professional network, and the mentors were instrumental in helping them make their big decisions. Mentoring has been around since the ancient Greeks and there is a robust body of research that demonstrates how helpful mentoring can be for people in their work and careers. Second, we noticed that many of the processes people used to make career decisions were similar to the strategies taught in Jesuit discernment to help people make all sorts of life decisions. Jesuit discernment is a 450-year-old process of discernment that emphasizes using a combination of spirituality, emotion, and logic to make decisions. We were intrigued and wanted to know more so we created a 35-item questionnaire that empirically measured "discernment style" (career decision making style) and surveyed 240 working professionals. We found out that most people tend to make their work and career decisions by relying on one or maybe two approaches, when really it is better to use a combination of strategies.

How is Big Decisions different from all of the other books about decision making?

Even the savviest professionals often struggle with making difficult decisions successfully. Many books on decisions excel at describing how people make decisions, or provide suggestions from executive case studies, yet few provide an integrated process and specific set of exercises that can be used by professionals to make successful decisions as they go about their work lives. A successful decision is one in which a person feels good about the process and the outcome and also experiences a sense of clarity and calm as a result of making the decision. Big Decisions is different as it provides an innovative approach to career decision making that gives a modern spin on two ancient tried and true practices: mentoring and Jesuit discernment. If you would like to be on a list to receive updates related to this ongoing research and be the first to try new assessment tools and exercises, contact me at eensher@lmu.edu.