How to Stop Making Decisions Based On What You Think Others Think

I have been on a hiatus from blogging.  There are several reasons, and I am excited to get back to writing again.  The last four months have been challenging for me both personally and professionally, but I am overcoming it, and a few tough months are not going to keep me down.  There have been several blog topics that I have started to write on but this one felt right after receiving a call from a mentee a couple of weeks ago.  

What do you want?  Such a simple question, right?  Well, it hasn’t been for me because I often do not actually think about myself when asked this question.  I formed beliefs in early childhood about how I should behave and act in situations based on respect for others and societal norms.  There is nothing wrong with being respectful and fitting in, but if taken to the extreme, you can find yourself in a place where you can’t specify what you personally want in life.  I have fallen victim to this and because of it I have done things I didn’t really want to do to keep others happy, not upset them, or try to show them I could be successful by what I believe to be their standards.  Here are a few examples:

  • When someone asks me where I want to go to eat, rather than just think about myself and what I want, I typically consider what they like or don’t like to try to find a compromise before even answering.  I’m sure couples everywhere can attest to the indecision that happens with this question because one of you can’t decide what they want!  The result can be both of you only partially satisfying your wants and disappointment with the choice.  
  • I have risen through various levels of corporate positions over the last 20 years and when I really think about it, I’ve done this because I want to make others proud of me.  While it has been a fun ride, it has also left me feeling empty at times. I have ended up in positions that were not in alignment with my passion and doing things I don’t enjoy.
  • When I am in a major decision-making situation, I have found myself worrying about what others will think when, what does it matter?  They are not going to live my life, so I need to decide what I want and move ahead.  This doesn’t mean I have to be rude or uncaring that others may be impacted by my decision, but I need to stop letting the potential reactions of others influence my decision to attain what I really want.  

Over the last several years I have been trying to unwind this tendency to continue to do things and make decisions to please others, but it is not easy when I’ve been making decisions this way for more than 20 years.  I give credit to my husband Jake for stopping me and asking what I really want often during our marriage.  He has reminded me that I matter, and if I compromise, I will not be happy.  I feel that I’m improving but there is room for me to get better at this.  I also had a career coach a little while back help me to identify that many of my strong held beliefs that I use to make decisions came out of my childhood.   She asked me, “Why are you letting your childhood rules run your adult life?”  It was a very powerful thought.  These childhood beliefs have been hard to break but I’m working on it.   

I had a mentee reach out to me recently and I’ll keep the details to a minimum in respect to her situation.  She and I have never met in person but were connected through a mutual friend.  We have spoken several times over the last couple of years to discuss situations as she is navigating her career.  She had a decision to make and shared the details with me.  I think she knew what she wanted before we even spoke but when she explained the options to me, one of them included statements like, “I feel bad for those I could let down if I make this choice.”  In this situation, deciding to take another job was going to benefit her in so many ways including commute time, more time with her family and increased pay.  I could relate to her statement because I have had the very same feelings.  It is hard for me to separate the emotional side from business decisions.  I know that having high emotional intelligence is beneficial in business but when it comes to trying to make a personal decision about business, it makes the situation unclear.  My advisement to her was even though some people may not be happy about her decision, if they really cared about her, they would understand, and she needs to go in the direction that is in alignment with her personal values.  

One of the things I have learned over the last two years during the pandemic is that I need to get really clear on what I want.  None of us are promised tomorrow and I do not want to live my life making decisions based on what everyone else thinks.  I’m continuing to work on this and hope this blog helps you to reassess whether you are really getting what you want?  If not, it’s time to make a change.  Let me know if I can help.  

Thanks for reading!


9 thoughts on “How to Stop Making Decisions Based On What You Think Others Think”

  1. Natalie,

    You may have not posted for awhile but your choice of topic is spot on. So much of what you have said resonates with me and my life to this point, though I know that this does not surprise you. Keep moving forward, touching others and finding your happiness.
    Stay well my friend,

  2. Really glad that you are posting again, Natalie!
    Making decisions for yourself instead of others can be very tough. Been there. But once you make the decisions it can lift you up. Every move you make will affect the rest of your life. Be true to yourself and be brave. It’s your life.

  3. Thank you for sharing this topic Natalie.

    One of the best decisions I ever made was leaving a traditional people management role for one that focuses on cross functional team management. Every company I’ve worked for valued people managers at a higher level. I’ve always been told managing teams is how to grow your career.

    Eight years ago I made the decision to take a role as an individual contributor and have since turned down people management opportunities. I have been able to carve an expertise for cross functional leadership that is highly valued in my organization. And I’m very happy and well rewarded.

    It took a while for me to understand this is what I enjoyed most in a career and then it took me a while longer to break from the stigma that I had to be a people manager to be a valued employee. I’m grateful I figured it out as soon as I did.

    1. Excellent example Amy! It can be hard to recognize what is really best for us as individuals when we try to compare ourselves to others. But when we find our sweet spot we are so much happier. Thank you for sharing your story too – powerful testament.

  4. Great article Natalie! I can relate to the decision struggles and the strife in trying to please others before yourself. As long as a decision is based on what is best for you and your family, it can’t be a wrong decision. You’re a very smart cookie and a great leader sp I’m confident you your decisions are solid. Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts…they’re beneficial to those that have been through what you’re about to experience and especially to those that haven’t.

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