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What’s the Best Decision You Ever Made?

Your answer will likely depend on how old you currently are.

Wherever you are in your life today, when you think about what is important to your current happiness, what are the things that pop up at the top of the list? Developmentally, we tend to break our travels through adulthood into 5 discrete segments:

  • Emerging Adulthood – when we begin trying to figure out who we are and where we are headed in life.
  • Young Adulthood – that period when we are old enough to know how little we actually do know about life and still too young to fully recognize and handle all of the responsibilities that come with adulthood. We know that we need a job, stability, and to begin thinking about how we’re going to get there.
  • Adulthood – these are those years when we begin to actually “look like” the adult in the room. Ideally, we have found a way to make a steady living, we have created the type of family that we believe we want, and we have begun to care more about being a part of the community and are likely worrying about raising children in a world that seems to be spinning out of control in ways that we might have once thought were “kinda’ cool,” but now perceive as “kinda’ scary.”
  • Middle Adulthood – this is what most of us still probably think of as “the parents’ generation,” even if we’ve hit the “Big 4-0,” ourselves. Midlife is the “next act” to old age’s “third act.” This is when we begin to recognize that our lives really are going to be a finite product of our choices and behaviors over the years. In midlife, you realize that there may not be a “do over,” but that doesn’t mean that you are “done.”
  • Older Adulthood – some consider these the “golden years,” or “the prime of life,” or use some other euphemism for the years from the late 60s to the end of life, but if we’re facing poverty, unaffordable medical needs, or food insecurity, these are as far from “golden” as anything could be. This is the time when older adults will take stock of their lives and, whether they consciously do it or not, assess their lifetime of choices and decisions to see if the outcome was what they expected or felt they deserved.

When is a Woman Happy She’s Made Up Her Mind?

In a recent research study, over 400 adult women were asked to share what they consider had been the “best decision” of their lives. The responses were reviewed and coded and it turns out that the “Big Decisions” of adulthood can pretty much be divided into 10 categories -- and here they are in order of frequency:

  1. Self-Development
  2. Pursuing an Education
  3. Motherhood (Choosing to become one or choosing not to)
  4. Career Development or Changes
  5. Beginning Romantic Relationship
  6. Ending Romantic Relationships
  7. Spiritual Development
  8. Geographical Relocation
  9. Family Relationships
  10. Social - Friendships

The percentage of women whose best decisions landed within a specific area varied across the lifespan. And not necessarily in ways that we might expect. This gives us insight into perhaps what we value in life and reflects what matters most as we age.

Finding Yourself is Still a Sought After Goal

For women up through their forties, decisions related to self-development were the most frequently noted. A third of the women in their twenties focused on this area; 26% of those in their 30s; and 17% of those in their 40s. Decisions made included such things as gaining stronger confidence, deciding to be less passive, refusing to let others make their choices for them, and so on. Education decisions were the most frequently mentioned decision for women in their 50s (18%) and their 60s (21%). These women were on the leading edge of women gaining more open access to higher education and the women’s rights movement was a part of their early cultural landscape. A greater percentage of women in this age group divorced without the same social stigma as the prior generation and also received cultural support for making career and lifestyle choices that were no longer dictated by their gender roles. It makes sense that education stands out as the key decision that helped them work towards their greatest potential.

Who’s Most Grateful they Broke Off a Relationship?

For women in their 70s, the number one decision determined as the “best decision” made by the largest number (33%) was Ending a Romantic Relationship. What this suggests is that for women in that age cohort, there was probably more opposition to ending marriages than there was in younger generations. It makes sense that a difficult and highly significant life choice would continue to hold – or even gain – value over time.

Motherhood: To Be or Not to Be a Mother?

Another pattern that emerged was the appearance of motherhood in the top of the lists for women in their 30s through the 60s. The majority of women noted that having children was their best decision, while a handful described their decision to NOT begin a family as their best decision. This is not a surprising finding, of course. However, it is might be interesting to know that the age groups most likely to count career choices as their best decision were those in their 30s, 40s, and those in their 60s. This might reflect a woman’s need to build a strong financial foundation in her most active career years and then to recognize in the 60s that good past financial choices make a significant different as older adulthood and finite economic resources become realities.

Is 50 the new 30?

Regarding significant romantic relationships, we might expect the beginning of relationships to show up at the top of the younger age cohorts, but it was halfway down the list for women in the forties and younger. Among the women in their 50s, it tied for the #2 most frequently noted decision along with motherhood and self-development. Overall, women in their 50s presented the greatest variety in the list of the top decisions made – and perhaps the old saying that “50 is the new 30” is true when it comes to diversity among individuals.

How to Make the Best Decision of your Life

Regardless of where you are in your life, you are going to be facing many opportunities to make decisions that may matter more later than they do at the moment. And know that any decision you make is going to be the “best” that you can at any given moment. To help you feel more in charge of your decision-making, here are some basic suggestions to guide you:

  1. Clearly assess exactly what your options are at the moment
  2. Determine if there really is a choice
  3. List the “pros and cons” of the options that you are most likely to take
  4. Make the choice that makes the most sense at that moment
  5. Accept that you have made the best decision that you possibly could at this time