The Real Question to Ask Yourself When You Can't Make Up Your Mind

Leaps of faith are scary by definition.

I was talking to a friend this morning who is up against a major decision in her life. She’s been at a good job for about 2 years now and, left to her own devices, would stay there through retirement.

Recently, two of her friends have put new job opportunities in front of her which will offer her more pay and upward mobility. Talking to her about this makes it seem as if she’s stuck between a wall of sharp spikes on one side and an electric force-field on the other and the only way she knows how to stay comfortable is to stay still.

To be clear, I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with contentment.

In fact, feeling content with where we are is the biggest struggle that many people go through. It takes strength to make peace with where you are, and it can be as tortuous a venture as taking a leap of faith. I say “venture” because while you are making peace with your situation, other opportunities that aren’t worth the risk will undoubtedly arise. And for those opportunities, why should you muddy the waters by rocking the boat? Being able to say “No” is a hard-earned skill.

What I am saying is that for people who do want to take risks:

Stop expecting it to ever feel comfortable.

Leaps are inherently scary, and unlike many other things in our life, leaps don’t get any less scary the more you take them. The first day of school was always scary, but the second day was never as bad. With leaps, however, each leap is just as nerve wracking as the last.

Taking that first step

Taking that first step

This always reminds me of that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where he has to trust that an invisible bridge will keep him from falling to his death. Can you even imagine? It wouldn’t matter if he went into that cave every day to make that leap. Indiana’s balls (both real & proverbial) would have always been in his throat when he took that first step.

For most of us, we don’t have the same (immediate) possibility of death should our leaps fail, but there are always consequences. No matter how amazing the benefits could be if we succeed, the results of failure from taking the leap can be catastrophic.

While we can sit and weigh the costs & benefits of taking the risk, it would be negligent not to mention that we also heavily weigh what people will say about us. If you take the risk and succeed, suddenly everyone is calling you a genius. If you take it and fail, you are nothing more than a reckless moron.

People’s opinions are fickle. What’s more important is to decide what taking or not taking the leap says to you about your own character. Do you see yourself as the type of person who:

  • takes calculated risks?

  • is okay with the possibility of failure?

  • if you do fail, can navigate your way out of it?

Or, do you see yourself as the type of person who:

  • needs a guarantee before taking a step?

  • values practicality?

  • minimizes all possible risks?

Or, as a third option, are you somehow trying to satisfy both halves of yourself? Which brings me back to the main point:

Leaps of faith are always scary.

This cannot change. When we are stuck in the decision of whether or not to take a risk, let’s stop trying to weigh the pros and cons so that we feel comfortable with the decision.

Let’s instead attempt to ask ourselves the questions above so we can see ourselves from our own subjective viewpoint. Even if you purchase every kind of warranty and minimize all potential risks, the leap of faith will still make your palms sweat and your heart pound.

And it’s at this point, when we’ve been wrestling with the “right decision” for a long time, that we really start to feel paralyzed. Before we started wrestling with the decision, we felt like we’d ultimately be able to make it once we’d done our homework, laid out the pros and cons, etcetera. Mid-way through the wrestling match, however, most of us feel more disarmed than when we began.

This all goes back to our expectation that somehow, if we analyze a situation enough, we’ll remove the “risk” factor from it and get to a point of peace with it.

That, my friends, is lunacy.

You’re looking for comfort in something that was only ever an issue because it made you uncomfortable. You’re looking to remove any doubt from something that requires faith. Try to navigate your way out of that contradiction.

Instead of questioning whether the leap is worth it, maybe it’s time to question whether your faith can handle it.

If Indiana Jones had hung off the ledge and let his feet dangle, would he have felt the bridge? I don’t think so. There simply isn’t any faith in that.

When looked at this way, it’s easy to see that people who feel stuck when presented with leap-of-faith type opportunities have a lot more faith in what’s practical. Again, there is nothing wrong with this perspective. It just stands in contrast with the people who see the risk and take it because of faith in something unseen, something that’s yet to come.

Now, if we’re presented with a risk and taking it has an overwhelming number of cons, then we would be morons to take it. The risks I’m talking about are the ones that, if taken successfully, could be overwhelmingly rewarding, and if we fail, the consequences could be equally dire. Since we are naturally risk-averse, the fear of failure can win out over the possibility for success and cause us either to not take the risk or to not make a decision at all.

Hence the feeling of being stuck, just waiting for some wind to come through and blow us over to Camp Comfortable.

That wind isn’t coming.

If you make the decision to take the leap, then even as you’re taking it, you’ll feel nervous as hell. Your palms may sweat, your heart may pound, your mind will race with all the possible ways failure will show up on your doorstep. Your reactions will come, but once you’ve taken the leap then from that point on it is all faith.

Once you take the leap, the decision part is over. You get to scramble, make the best of the situation, pull all the loose threads together to make it work. You’re in the thick of it and you can never be 100% sure that it will work out the way you want it to, but you’re going to try like hell because you made the decision.

To me, that’s what makes it all worth it. The leap is the scary part, but if you’re okay with the possibility of failure and believe enough in yourself and the resources you have (whatever those may look like) you can make it to the other side.

Once you’re in the scramble of making your leap work, you’ll start to get a little more comfortable. The possibility of failure is still there, but it lessens. You start to see more possibilities of how this leap you’ve taken will succeed. You pull on strengths you didn’t even know you had. Your faith strengthens.

And this is something only people with the highest amount of faith ever count on when doing a cost-benefits analysis of whether or not to take a risk. Few of us count on the fact that once we commit to the decision, other avenues will inevitably open up. Why? Because it’s based on faith and will surely get you called naive.

But a risk, a leap of faith, cannot exist without the faith part of it. And faith cannot exist if there isn’t some reason to doubt. If you had no reason to doubt then it would be called fact.

No matter how much your faith strengthens after taking a leap, the next leap is always around the corner and I promise you it will feel just as uncomfortable. While your faith may be stronger, the funny thing about leaps of faith is they never get less scary.

The debate should not be over whether you’ll sink or swim once you make the leap.

The debate is over whether you have faith that you can figure it out. Dig into that question and uncover the doubt. But don’t seek to be comfortable.