How to Make Tough Decisions: A 5-Step Process


This past week I was faced with a tough decision. One of those decisions that I didn’t want to have to make, but it was on me to make it. 

On Tuesday afternoon, Exactly 1 week before Day 1 of the Creative Leadership Summit I was running, I heard from one of my speakers. Their mother was having emergency surgery, and they needed to head cross-country to care for her and their elderly father. They weren’t sure they would be available during their session time. 

“No problem,” I thought. “we can be flexible.”

On Wednesday I heard from another speaker.  Covid had hit their household. Their spouse and one of their kids had it, and they were worried that it was only a matter of time before they were coughing like mad. They weren’t canceling….just giving me fair warning. 

On Thursday, I started to not feel so great myself. 

Meanwhile, I’m desperately trying to get summit schedules and promos and photos up on social media, but the speakers themselves are now up in the air, and I have zero energy. Do I wait and see? Do I try to replace them with less than a week’s notice? 


Do I postpone the entire summit? 



For most of our lives as artists, we are not the ones in the driver’s seat. Even when we’re sick, we’re expected to show up anyway. (I don’t need to tell you how many intermissions I spent lying down in the green room with a fever–just hoping to make it through the rest of the concert and get home to bed– because I’m sure you’ve had to do it just as many times.)

Bad weather? National Crisis? Global Pandemic? Not up to us whether the show goes on.


And that’s why “Making Tough Decisions” is one of the most important skills we must hone as we step into leadership roles in our communities and industries. 


Over time, I have developed a 5-Step process for handling those moments, and I can tell you from personal experience, that this process works for ANY big decision. Both for work and personal ones. It is the process I used at various points in creating the Virtual Summer Cello Festival, and I used it when my husband and I were deciding whether to take a job opportunity in the states or stay here in Bermuda. (Spoiler alert: we stayed)



Step 1. The Information Check

Often we start making decisions before we have all of the information, so step one is to gather ALL of the info. Look to see where you are making assumptions, and to the best of your ability, fill those in with facts. 

Example: my husband and I spent most of the weekend debating between 2 different road trip routes when I realized that we didn’t even know if his best friend was going to be HOME that week. The entire reason for taking that route would be to see him, so there was no point in moving forward until we answered that question. 


Step 2: The Pros and Cons Check:

Old school, I know, but it works. Take your sheet, draw a line down the middle, and have at it. Write down everything, no matter how small or petty it might seem. Do this for each one.


Step 3: The Best Outcome Check

Look at each scenario and ask yourself “How would this one be the best outcome overall”. Make the case for ALL of the possible scenarios with everything you’ve got. 

Option A would be best because…

Option B would be best because…

Option C would be best because…

This exercise will be both eye-opening, and very reassuring. You’ll likely see that while there might be a “best” outcome, there probably isn’t a “wrong” outcome. You’ll see that no matter what you do, you’ll be able to make it work. (and If you can’t see that, then just strike that option off the list!)


Step 4: The Value Alignment Check

You’ll notice how your pros and cons list comes into play, as well as your answers to the previous step. Is one “best outcome” ego-driven rather than truly aligned with your values? 

I found myself thinking about how pushing through and having the summit this week no matter what would be best because I will have kept my word. I said it was going to be this week, people bought tickets for this week, and I want people to see me as consistent. It’s important to me that my word is worth something.

But actually, that’s more about my ego than anything else. The summit doesn’t NEED to be this week. And in fact, by NOT pushing through, and by not finding last-minute replacements, the summit will be even BETTER for those ticket holders if it’s held later when my ideal speakers and guests are all available. 

The fact that I wouldn’t have to go through the trouble of refunding the VIP pass holders was also about my own time and effort (and actually, almost every single one of them chose to hold onto their passes for the postponed summit date!)

So in the end, although there was a bit of a Value stand-off between “I am someone who keeps promises and stays true to my word” and “I put out the highest quality work possible”, I decided that my “promise” of an amazing experience was more important to my audience than my “promise” that that experience would be this particular week. 


Step 5: The Gut Check

Make the decision in your heart. Maybe tell one person close to you that you trust. How does it feel to say it out loud? Do you feel relieved? Anxious? You can even say them both out loud and check for changes in your breathing, heart rate, muscle tension, etc. For me, it’s always more a feeling than a thought. 

When I Voxered my biz bestie and said the words “I’ve decided to postpone the summit” It wasn’t followed by a clear thought of “yes! That’s right” but I did feel very calm afterward, and immediately felt the tension in my back and neck release. Soon after, I was flooded with thoughts and ideas for the postponed Summit, and I knew I had made the right decision. 


So, friends, I AM sorry and disappointed that I won’t be seeing many of you on zoom this week for the Creative Leadership Summit, but we will gather at the end of August (exact dates will be announced soon) and it will be amazing. 

In the meantime, I hope that the above 5-Step Decision Making Process is helpful to you, no matter what kind of decision you need to make. If you try it out, please leave a comment and let us all know how it went for you.

And I can share this with you as well: In my experience, the more I have gone through this process, the more I trust it. A bonus is that I now trust that no matter what, I can make something work in some way, and I’ve also learned that I really can trust my gut. Deep down, we always know our own “right answers.” 






P.S. Curious about what other attributes, habits, and mindset skills would be most helpful to you as you move towards up-leveling your career, step into more leadership roles, or re-structure your career to allow for more time and less hustle? 

I’d love to chat with you about it. You can book a free (completely no strings attached!) 30-minute discovery call with me. We’ll meet over zoom and figure out what your next best steps might look like. 


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