When faced with an important life decision, 100 percent of men polled would rather make a great choice than a terrible one. Yet bad decisions happen to good guys every day. It doesn’t have to be this way. You can actually ace every single seminal moment in your life.
Sounds impossible, right? You’re probably thinking to yourself, There’s no way in hell someone can advise me how to make all good decisions. They don’t know anything about me. I don’t even know all the decisions I’m going to have to make. In order, ‘yes’ someone can advise you, ‘no,’ they don’t have to know anything about you, and ‘yes,’ we don’t know all the choice you’ll face, but we do know most of the important decisions you’ll have to make.
How is this possible? It’s simple. You may be your own man, but billions of men have traveled the road of manhood before you. They’ve chosen a college to attend, a place to live, a child’s name. They’ve had to nail a job interview or a marriage proposal. They haven’t lived your exact life, but they’re just a few steps ahead of you on the same sidewalk. And that’s great news, because it means you’re not alone.
Of course, you can’t just tap some random guy on the shoulder and ask whether you should bail on winter and move to Southern California or South Florida. That’s where I come in. I’m the guy men tap on the shoulder. Not on the street, obviously, and not in the literal sense. That would be weird for both of us.
Who am I? I’m a columnist. I’ve written for nearly every men’s magazine on the planet, including monthly advice columns in GQ and Muscle & Fitness. And now I’ve taken the topics I found the most popular among readers and turned them into my new book: The Three Dollar Scholar – Awesome Advice for Acing Life’s Major Decisions and Mindless Debates. (It costs $2.99, hence the title.)
While the book’s chapters offer specific advice on all sorts of decisions, here are three fail-safe tips to making solid choices when your future is on the line. Use them well.
1. Think it through
The advice to list pros and cons about any big choice isn’t bad; it’s just incomplete. To make it truly worthwhile, make one list of pros and cons about your decision for right now, then one projecting two years into the future, five years into the future and ten years into the future or beyond. You can’t foresee everything that might happen, but if you think deeply about it, you’ll surprise yourself with how many things pop into your head that you wouldn’t think of with a traditional list.
For instance, say you’re about to have your first son and you’re thinking of naming him Mason because it’s a popular name. Now, I’m not telling you what to name your child, but with the average life expectancy in the United States pushing 80 years, picking the wrong name for your kid could turn out to be an eight-decade mistake.
In 80 years you’ll likely be dead: the house you lived in, the cars you drove, the clothes you wore will probably all be recycled, rebuilt or destroyed. But your son, who is now living in an old-age facility in 2092, has to go by the name Mason S., because Mason A., Mason G., Mason L. and Mason P. live on the same floor, and they were all born in 2012 and also had parents who simply picked the trendiest name available. Unless you have always loved Mason, or you are named Mason (or work as a mason) and your son is going to be a Mason Junior or a mason, the name is just too popular. So think it through. Especially if your last name is Dixon.
2. Pay attention
Sometimes we get so focused on the outcome of a decision or event, we forget to pay attention to all the little details that might help us improve the odds of the outcome working in our favor. Let’s use a job interview as an example.
Before every interview, you have a choice. You can either be excellent in your interview or you can be an epic failure. Anywhere in between probably won’t land you the job. Most people who are waiting for a job interview will sit in a chair and either zone out until their name is called, surf the web on their phone, or worse, pace or stand nervously in front of a receptionist who is watching their every move. All three of these actions are a waste of time.
From the moment you walk in the door, keep your head on swivel. Check out the atmosphere, the stuff on the wall, the way people are dressed, everything. You should be like a quarterback reading a defense. Look for anything you can use to make the interviewer feel like you’ll fit right in. Waiting isn’t a waste of time. It’s your pre-game warm-up, your one opportunity to learn about the employer on their turf. Use that time wisely, not as an opportunity to finally get three stars on that Angry Birds level you’ve been trying to beat for a week.
3. Keep an open mind
Have you ever heard the following brainteaser? Suzie and Sally were born on the same day at the same time to the same mother, but they aren’t twins. How is this possible? The answer lies not in what you know, but what you don’t know, which is that Suzie and Sally have a sister, Samantha, who was also born at the same time. This makes Suzie and Sally triplets, not twins. What’s the point? Sometimes you think you have all the info when you don’t, and sometimes you think you have only two choices when you have many more.
For instance, one chapter in my book breaks down the best fast food burgers, from Wendy’s and McDonald’s to Burger King and Carl’s Jr. The original plan was to declare a fast food burger champion. After sampling all the burgers myself, I asked for reader feedback from all over the country. What did I discover? That people’s tastes vary considerably, but no matter which burger they chose as their personal favorite, they all ‘craved’ one of the other burgers at various times. This made it difficult to declare a winner, but when I extrapolated backwards, I realized that I could just arbitrarily choose my favorite burger as the winner (most likely Wendy’s) or I could draw the following conclusion from my research:
The major fast-food burger chains have succeeded in creating tastes different enough that simply craving a burger doesn’t lead you to eat just any old burger. What you end up craving is one of their burgers. If you’re in the mood for a Whopper, one of the other burgers simply will not satisfy you. It’s almost like they have become separate food groups, as different as a burrito, a salad and a tuna sandwich. If Burger King can make you crave a Whopper more than a Super Star on Wednesday, then Burger King wins on Wednesday; that doesn’t mean that BK will win on Friday. Each restaurant lives to fight another day…and so do your taste buds.
This revelation changed the focus of the chapter and it has become one of the most popular and commented on passages in the book. If I had stuck to my original plan of declaring a winner, it might have been just a so-so chapter about fast food burgers, but because I kept an open mind about what people were telling me, it reshaped my vision for the piece. I thought I had all the information I needed going in, when it turned out I didn’t. Take that approach with bigger picture questions, and I’m willing to bet you’ll make more great choices than terrible ones. Best of luck.
The Three Dollar Scholar is available for $2.99 via the Amazon Kindle or Nook app on all tablets, smartphones, Macs and PCs. For more details, visit thethreedollarscholar.com or buy it on Amazon today! Follow on Twitter @3dollarscholar.