Decision Making is Not About Age

I’ve always been careful about labeling those in the youngest generation as lacking common sense. Two separate incidents in the past week illustrate that how well a person makes decisions is not based on age but experience, maturity and the influence of others.

Example number one: I received an e-mail from a utility supervisor in snowy North Dakota.  It read: “Last week, I came upon a man in his early twenties who had spun out on an icy road. He was stuck off the shoulder in about eight inches of snow. He was spinning his tires and, at the same time, talking on the phone telling his friends how stuck he was. As I started to scrape away the snow, he remained in his truck laughing about the situation. After a few minutes, I yelled to him which way to turn the wheel and to back up. After he did so, the car gained the necessary traction. He smiled, gave me a thumbs-up, and drove off. The whole situation made me smile and I thought about what you had taught us in last year’s seminar and how right you are!”

Example number two: A couple of weeks ago, I chatted with a colleague about her son, Scott, who is in his early twenties. He has always longed to explore the world and so far has traveled or lived in about ten different countries. A couple of months ago, he impulsively found himself in the main train station in Zagreb, Croatia, not knowing a soul and not speaking a word of Croatian. So, what to do? After considering his situation for a minute or two, he walked to the center of the station’s great hall and yelled, “Does anyone speak English?” After a couple of attempts, several people walked over and asked how they could help. Admittedly, the average soul might not have the courage to do this. But in all his traveling, Scott has learned a few principles: 1) There’s no such thing as a dumb question; 2) It generally doesn’t matter what other people think; 3) Given the opportunity, most strangers will come to your aid if asked.

So, what’s the insight here? Age has little, if anything, to do with how well a person makes decisions. Sure, I’ll stipulate that the older you get the more experience and perspective you can draw from. But I’ve known people late in life who still struggle to get outside their comfort zones in order to achieve marginally better outcomes. If you’re trying to improve your decision making, make more decisions and focus less on what other people might think. You WILL make mistakes. But failure is where most wisdom is developed. You’ve probably heard that said. Take it to heart.

If you are supervising others, regardless of age, compel them to make the decisions you know they are capable of making. Support them when they make mistakes and process what they’ve learned. But for heaven’s sake don’t save their butts, unless the consequences are dire. If you save someone from harm or hardship once, they’ll expect you to do it again and again. That’s human nature. The more times you save them, the harder it will be to withdraw that help and compel their self-sufficiency. For many reading this, I’m probably preaching to the choir. But ask yourself – even if you believe all this, how often do you practice it?

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