In the end, it's not the knowledge you accumulated that you'll think about but rather the decisions you made.
I've taught graduate school for two decades. I'm always amazed at how one of the hardest things to teach is decision making, especially when it involves scenarios that are filled with uncertainty. Yet, all tough decisions are made in the absence of certainty. However, there is one way to frame nearly every hard decision so it makes the right answer abundantly clear.
Before I get to the framework, I want you to think of a tough decision you're struggling with right now. It may be professional or personal, or a bit of both. The harder and tougher and the longer you've considered the decision, the better. Dig deep because I want you to take on something that is life altering in its implications.
Got it? Good, let's continue.
"The world doesn't always pay attention to our desires, but it does regularly remind us of our choices."
I now want you to fast forward your life clock to age 80. Put yourself in a retrospective mood, looking back and contemplating all of the decisions you made: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Now, in the mindset of the 80-year-old, ask yourself which path within your current dilemma you would have regretted most. That is the path you do not want to take -- the one that will lead to the greatest regret.
I've talked about this approach in earlier columns, but I love the way Jeff Bezos frames it in what he calls his Regret Minimization Framework.
But I want to take it one step further to drive the point home.
Let that 80-year-old talk to your present day self, and tell him what decision you should have made to avoid the high price of regret. Simply put, make every decision as though you were nearing the end of your life and looking back wishing what you had decided.
Here's the thing, though: none of this is going to guarantee you make the right decision, because there is rarely an absolute right or wrong, except in hindsight. The world doesn't always pay attention to our desires, but it does regularly remind us of our choices. What this simple mind game will guarantee is that you don't find yourself wishing you had done something you really wanted to do and can't forgive yourself for not doing. Because you're the one who has to live with your decisions for life.
Simple stuff, right? Sure it is, you know that. But then again, knowing is not deciding.