How to Make Long Term Decisions

Long term decision making is very difficult. This simple model helps to critically evaluate options, remove biases and considers opportunity cost.

How to Make Long Term Decisions

We generally find it difficult when making important long term decisions. We spend months or even years evaluating our options. The choice overwhelms us, and sometimes, we end up confused and not making a decision.

Not making a decision can often be the worst thing to do in such a situation. It defers putting a plan into action and making essential changes in our lives.

I came across an idea this week that will forever change the way I approach making long term decisions. I have made some changes to this idea to make it easier to understand and apply in our everyday lives. Let me share it with you.

A 29 year old nurse was asking if it would be worthwhile for her to retrain as a doctor. She was worried that it would take 4 years to retrain and at which point, she may be too old. She was also questioning whether the opportunity cost of retraining (reduced wages, more education, etc.) would be worth it for her, given her current situation.

The answer should be obvious. If this was something that the Nurse genuinely wanted to do, she should retrain. Retraining becomes the apparent solution, given she believed retraining would lead to a more satisfying career.

Millennials will switch jobs and even professions every few years. She should not be considered too old to retrain as a doctor at 29. It's precisely the same field she's been working in for several years, with a broadly similar skillset to doctors and almost a decade of experience.

Although the answer to her question may be apparent to us as outsiders, she was having an incredibly tough time making this decision. Her age was what was most concerning to her, so the model looks at this problem by imagining the Nurse's entire life was a 24 hour day. Let me explain.

To make things easier, let's assume the average person will live to the age of 96. Using a 24 hour day, 4 years of her life is equivalent to 1 hour of our metaphorical day. If midnight is the moment she was born, at age 29 she is at 7:15 am in her life. She's still got another 16 hours and 45 minutes to go.

After 4 years, she would have finished retraining as a doctor. She will now be at 8:15 in her life - around the time most people are beginning to get up in the morning. She believes she's better suited as a doctor and as such, still has plenty of time to enjoy the satisfaction of her new career, following her training.

Given the current social and economic climate, millennials and Gen Z will be working till they're around 70 years old or 17:30, based on our metaphorical day. The Nurse, therefore, has 9 hours and 15 minutes or 37 years of her new career — more than an entire working day. The 4 years out retraining suddenly becomes irrelevant on the grand scheme of things, making it clear that the right thing for the Nurse to do would be for her to retrain.

Contextualising the impact of her retraining as a doctor using this simple model helped her to understand her situation better and to make the correct long term decision.

This model should help put things into perspective when making long term decisions. It eliminated the Nurse's biases and short term noise, which helped her make the right decision.

It's something I will incorporate into my life when making crucial long term decisions.

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