A View From The Balcony and Measuring Regret

Javier’s two daughters each faced critical decisions early in their careers. These are their two stories…

Javier’s youngest daughter was home for the holidays after completing a coveted internship in New York. “What to do now” plagued her every move, thought, and minute of the day.

Staying in Houston with her parents while she looked for a job seemed the most sensible and financially responsible decision. But jobs in her field were limited in Houston, and she yearned to be independent.

Moving back to NY was exciting and jobs were plentiful. Plus, she loved the city. But the move would be risky and potentially costly.

Back and forth she went. “She was so in the weeds on this decision, that she was actually including the complexity of getting her cats to NY. I finally stepped in, ‘we can get the blasted cats to NY, let’s focus on what you really want here.’ “

Javier asked his daughter one question: What would you tell a friend to do? Without hesitation she said: “Go to NY.”

“She was too close to the problem, too myopic, and had lost sight of what she was really making the decision about: What was most important to her.”

In the end, what mattered most was getting a job in her field that she loved, and working in a place she found energizing.

Javier had his daughter employ something he had learned in his decision-analysis work. He had her take an outside—or balcony—view of the decision, forcing her to be more objective and less emotional.

His daughter moved to NY, landed a job she loved, and lived there happily for years with her cats.

Years later, Javier’s oldest daughter was working as a teacher’s assistant in a low-income elementary school that supported children with an array of difficult special needs. “They came from situations and were dealing with lives that I cannot imagine,” Javier said.

One day she called her dad saying she was weighing two opportunities.

The low-income school was offering her a full teaching position. Meanwhile, a previous contact reached out about a Drama Teacher role at a highly-ranked suburban high school.

Javier’s daughter had started her studies as a theater major, a field she loved but in which she saw limited opportunities. Despite successfully producing, acting in and directing a number of productions, she had switched her studies to English, then earned her Master’s in Special Education.

While in her current job, she had started her own small theater company with a friend. It was low-budget and nearly break-even. But it kept her connected to her first love. The high school offer would immerse her in her first love. Plus, it blended with her newly adopted passion for teaching. The pay was slightly better, the job far less stressful, and the student body didn’t have to deal with the issues her current young pupils were enduring.

While the decision seemed clear to him as his daughter weighed pros and cons, she remained torn.

“I have found that most people are not as loss-averse as they are regret-averse,” Javier said. “Looking back and seeing something you’d wished you’d done is far more psychologically painful than failing.”

And so, he asked his daughter: “What is the likelihood of regret for each job?”

“I would regret not working with and helping these kids,” she told her dad. She was emotionally invested.

His daughter stayed at the elementary school where she is now Dean of Students and a special education teacher.

 

(Special thanks to the Society of Decision Professionals, for sharing personal stories from their members—experts in the field and also parents, spouses, friends, and family-members.)

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