i3 | March 30, 2022

Making Decisions: Five Years and the Next Moment

Gary Shapiro
Arrows pointing in different directions

My wife convinced me a long time ago that we could make better decisions if we used a five-year time horizon. After all, lots of things in life seem to use roughly five-year increments whether it is milestone birthdays, attending different levels of school, jobs and promotions, or even survival rates for different maladies.

The advantage of thinking this way is that it allowed us to make difficult decisions like where we lived, the house we chose and even commitments to employers. If we thought each decision was a lifetime commitment then we probably would have agonized over several decisions and been frozen into inaction.

Of course, some decisions have a lifetime impact and should be viewed with extreme care: Who you marry. Whether you have children. Whether you take extreme physical risks. These are all big decisions that are not helpful with just a five-year time horizon.

But I counsel younger people not to fret so much over what many see as agonizing sections altering the arc of their life: the college they attend, what their major is and their first job. It is better to explore different options and recognize that life gives us several possibilities. I urge students to think about what they look forward to each morning and what they want to avoid; what saps their energy and what inspires them. Do they need people or like to be alone? Do they want to create ideas, change the world or lead people? Do they want to do good or make money? Do they know enough about themselves to answer these questions? The first real job is not a lifetime commitment but an opportunity to discover what engages them so they can learn about themselves and make better career and life decisions.

Of course, five-year plans or time-horizons based on assumptions is not foolproof given the recent extremes of uncertainty brought on by events out of our control. Five years ago the thought of a pandemic or a crazy murdering national leader with a nuclear button seemed both absurd and unlikely. An old Polish saying comes to mind: “Man plans and God laughs.” It is easy to feel out of control.

But we can be more rooted if we know ourselves and how to make decisions. Indeed, a parent’s job is to not only imbue ethics and confidence in their children; it is to help them learn how to make good decisions.

One of the most important books influencing me is Tolchin’s, “The Power of Now.” It describes how we can regain our childhood ability to be in the present rather than focused on the many possible bad future outcomes. Now we call it “being present.’ Being present or “in the moment” often conflicts with our devices as they steal our focus and too often deprive our children of our attention and ability to share human moments with them.

But if we make good decisions by balancing them consciously with time, we can chill a bit, stress less and enhance our lives.

If we make good decisions by balancing them consciously with time, we can chill a bit, stress less and enhance our lives. 
i3 magazine March/April 2022 cover

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