The Tyranny of One Right Answer

What's the right answer?

That's the question we spend a lot of time asking ourselves when faced with a major decision. Should we move to Colorado? Should I take that job with a more prestigious company? Do I really want to marry this person? Which contractor do I select for our renovation? Are we ready to adopt another child?

We search to find the right answer, one that will ensure our future happiness and contentment. While it may be a natural process, it's a question designed to drive ourselves crazy and a sure-fire formula for suffering.

The problem is the premise is flawed. When we believe there is one right answer, it implies we know what the future will hold. But sadly, none of us has a burning bush that will flame in front of us and tell us which way to go. We each make our journeys through life with a lot of guesswork, optimism, and if you're spiritual, a lot of prayer.

Think about it. How many times have you thought something was going to be terrible, but it turned out to be great? Or the other way around --you thought something was going to be great, but it didn't turn out that way? None of us can predict the future.

All choices have costs and all choices have benefits. Our choices are rarely clear-cut. The choice is which basket of costs/benefits do you choose?

Let's say you decided to take the job with the more prestigious company, even though your new job had a longer commute and you were relatively happy in your former job. After working there a while, you realize you have less time with your family because of the commute and longer working hours, and the opportunities for advancement are not as your employer had presented. You are left feeling like you did not pick the right answer.

And when we believe there is just one right answer, and it doesn't turn out so well, we become angry with ourselves for choosing wrong. We attack ourselves for not being smarter and more insightful. We lose confidence in our ability to make decisions wisely.

The answer to avoiding this trap lies in remembering the truth, feeling empathy for ourselves, and having confidence in our abilities.

We need to accept the reality that we can't predict the future. We looked at all the options we had available to us and made the best decision that we could, given the knowledge we had at the time.

We have to feel empathy for ourselves when our decision doesn't turn out as well as we had hoped. If we beat ourselves up about it, we will just feel worse. Playing the "If only I'd known" game will just cause us more pain. And we didn't know.

Lastly, don't let a decision that didn't work out let you lose your confidence. The only real confidence that any of us can have about the future is that we'll figure out how to get through it, no matter what happens.

In the example about the job, you could explore the options you now have and perhaps take a different job closer to home, or explore the possibility of moving to a new home closer to your office.

The point is to remember there may be several right answers for you, not just one. So focus on picking a right answer, not the right answer.

David Geller is the author of Wealth & Happiness: Using Your Wealth to Create a Better Life. He is the CEO of Atlanta-based GV Financial Advisors and is available for professional speaking engagements.