LEADERSHIP / AUG. 25, 2014
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How to Make Tough Choices

Ruth Chang, a philosopher, examines the human dilemma of making tough choices—which career path should I take, should I get married—and how we make, or don’t make, decisions that can really affect our futures.

“Understanding hard choices uncovers a hidden power each of us possesses.”

Chang notes that what makes a decision hard is when the pros and cons between two choices aren’t as clear cut or well defined. Some pros make one choice better, but the cons may make the other option seem more attractive or viable. Overall, one may not necessarily be better than the other. And not all hard choices are big, life changing decisions. These smaller, tough choices can make bigger choices seem less scary.

Take choosing a career path. Chang describes choosing a career in law over one in philosophy. “I remember thinking to myself, if only I knew what my life in each career would be like.”  Comparing options side by side and seeing future outcomes makes these types of choices easy. However, lacking the ability to see the future, most people will opt for the safer, more secure career path. Chang decided to pursue law over philosophy.

Fear of the unknown rests on a misconception that one alternative really is better, but we’re too stupid to know which one is better overall. Chang argues that no human is too stupid to make tough choices, and that tough choices aren’t tough because we can’t decide on which option to take. Instead, these choices are tough because there is no best option.

But if there’s no best option, then surely each option is equally good. That makes choosing a career simple—just flip a coin. But it’s not as simple as that. Chang explains how tough choices evolve through pros and cons and how we can work through tough choices logically by assessing human value.

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