Over the last nine months since my sabbatical ended, I’ve been exploring the question “what’s next for me professionally?” I could sense that it was time for the deliberation phase to come to a close and to decide something. In one of those perfect moments of serendipity, I picked up one of my favorite books, The Great Work of Your Life by Stephen Cope, and the very next chapter was on the topic I most needed to some guidance on: deciding and committing!
I used this moment of inspiration to collect all my favorite quotes on deciding and committing! I realized that this could be a nice resource to share with you all. Since high school, I’ve been quietly collecting my favorite quotes on life wisdom. (Perhaps it’s no surprise that I became a coach later in life!) I’m realizing it might be useful to share my collection!
I hope some of these words find a place in your heart the way they have for me!
(Bonus: I also made a printable 2-page Google Doc version that you could put up in your space.)
(Sharing: If you know someone who is at a crossroads, you might send this along to them so they can see if any of it resonates.)
Moving out of indecision
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!” Begin it now!— WA Murray
I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose.
I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Making a choice of how to spend your time is an affirmation that “this matters most right now,” because there were so many other things you could have chosen.
In this situation, making a choice—picking one item from the menu—far from representing some kind of defeat, becomes an affirmation. It’s a positive commitment to spend a given portion of time doing this instead of that—actually, instead of an infinite number of other “thats”—because this, you’ve decided, is what counts the most right now. In other words, it’s precisely the fact that I could have chosen a different and perhaps equally valuable way to spend this afternoon that bestows meaning on the choice I did make. … The exhilaration that sometimes arises when you grasp this truth about finitude has been called the “joy of missing out,” by way of a deliberate contrast with the idea of the “fear of missing out.” It is the thrilling recognition that you wouldn’t even really want to be able to do everything, since if you didn’t have to decide what to miss out on, your choices couldn’t truly mean anything.— Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks
Since hard choices are unavoidable, what matters is learning to make them consciously.
Since hard choices are unavoidable, what matters is learning to make them consciously, deciding what to focus on and what to neglect, rather than letting them get made by default—or deceiving yourself that, with enough hard work and the right time management tricks, you might not have to make them at all.— Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks
When we surrender our ability to choose, something or someone else will step in to choose for us.
— Greg McKeown, Essentialism
Dealing with the fear of failure
Do not worry about the outcome. Success or failure are not your concern. It is better to fail at your own dharma than to succeed at the dharma of another.
Krishna quickly adds: Do not worry about the outcome. Success or failure are not your concern. It is better to fail at your own dharma than to succeed at the dharma of another. Your task is only to bring as much life force as you can muster to the execution of your dharma… Chinese Master Guan Yin Tzu wrote: “Don’t waste time calculating your chances of success and failure. Just fix your aim and begin.”— Stephen Cope, The Great Work of Your Life
We should fear regret more than we fear failure.
I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done in life, any choice that I’ve made. But I’m consumed with regret for the things I didn’t do, the choices I didn’t make, the things I didn’t say. We spend so much time being afraid of failure, afraid of rejection. But regret is the thing we should fear most. Failure is an answer. Rejection is an answer. Regret is an eternal question you will never have the answer to. “What if…” “If only…” “I wonder what would have…” You will never, never know, and it will haunt you for the rest of your days.— Trevor Noah, Born a Crime
The realization of your idea will always be less beautiful than your vision (because of limited time, talent, and resources). But it’s still worth it.
There is a fable about an architect from Shiraz in Persia who designed the world’s most beautiful mosque: a breathtaking structure, dazzlingly original yet classically well proportioned, awe-inspiring in its grandeur yet wholly unpretentious. All those who saw the architectural plans wanted to buy them, or steal them; famous builders begged him to let them take on the job. But the architect locked himself in his study and stared at the plans for three days and nights—then burned them all. He might have been a genius, but he was also a perfectionist: the mosque of his imagination was perfect, and it agonized him to contemplate the compromises that would be involved in making it real.— Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks
The limitations we’re trying to avoid when we engage in this self-defeating sort of procrastination frequently don’t have anything to do with how much we’ll be able to get done in the time available; usually, it’s a matter of worrying that we won’t have the talent to produce work of sufficient quality, or that others won’t respond to it as we’d like them to, or that in some other way things won’t turn out as we want.— Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks
We prefer indecision because, in our fantasy, we never have to make trade-offs and it always goes flawlessly.
We invariably prefer indecision over committing ourselves to a single path, Bergson wrote, because “the future, which we dispose of to our liking, appears to us at the same time under a multitude of forms, equally attractive and equally possible.” In other words, it’s easy for me to fantasize about, say, a life spent achieving stellar professional success, while also excelling as a parent and partner, while also dedicating myself to training for marathons or lengthy meditation retreats or volunteering in my community—because so long as I’m only fantasizing, I get to imagine all of them unfolding simultaneously and flawlessly. As soon as I start trying to live any of those lives, though, I’ll be forced to make trade-offs—to put less time than I’d like into one of those domains, so as to make space for another—and to accept that nothing I do will go perfectly anyway, with the result that my actual life will inevitably prove disappointing by comparison with the fantasy.— Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks
How to decide
Say no to detours that are not your dharma. The root of the word “decide” means, literally, “to cut off.” To decide for something means at times to decide against something else.
Naturally, there is an obstacle to all this wonderment. Alas, it turns out that the process of unification requires saying “no” to actions that do not support dharma—saying “no” to detours, and to side channels of all kinds, even to some pretty terrific side channels. It requires snipping off all manner of “other options.” The root of the word “decide” means, literally, “to cut off.” To decide for something means at times to decide against something else.— Stephen Cope, The Great Work of Your LIfe
Ask yourself: Will I regret NOT doing this?
You say that you and your partner don’t want to make the choice to become parents simply because you’re afraid you “will regret not having one later,” but I encourage you to reexamine that. Thinking deeply about your choices and actions from the stance of your future self can serve as both a motivational and a corrective force. It can help you stay true to who you really are as well as inspire you to leverage your desires against your fears.Not regretting it later is the reason I’ve done at least three quarters of the best things in my life.— Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things (read article here) I decided to become pregnant when I did because I was nearing the final years of my fertility and because my desire to do this thing that everyone said was so profound was just barely stronger than my doubts about it were.— Cheryl Strayed
On my deathbed, will I be happy I did this, sad I didn’t, or will it even matter?
So often when making decisions, I try to put myself on my deathbed and consider whether or not I’d be happy I did it, sad I didn’t or will it even matter? Is this thing that I’m doing? How important is it to me on my death bed? Future cast way to the end. It helps for a lot of things like a breakup, for example. On my death bed, will I be happy we broke up? Will I be sad I didn’t do it? Or will it even matter? If it doesn’t matter, go ahead and break up, girl. Go ahead and break up. Break up. If it will matter, probably do it sooner. And if it won’t, you know what I mean? It’s just a stark way.— Alua Arthur, Death Doula, We Can Do Hard Things podcast (episode)
No “yes.” Either “HELL YEAH!” Or “no.”
— Derek Sivers
“What’s the one thing I can do, such that by doing it everything else is easier or unnecessary?”
— Gary Keller, The ONE Thing
I’ve spent over a decade as a leadership coach, aiding social change leaders to achieve personal growth and societal transformation without running themselves into the ground. Drawing from my own roots in climate activism, I aim to help us transform our movements for change into places that are more nourishing for everyone involved. Sign up for my newsletter to get my latest articles.