A Roadmap for Making Major Life Decisions

J and I are at a really exciting place right now. We are busy as can be, and in total overdrive planning mode. I sort of love that burst of planning and excitement that comes along with fall. It's like the "other new year." So the biggest thing on our minds, aside from all of the responsibility and intensity of J's class schedule at the moment, is next year. Next fall. When our lives are officially back on track, and this long and strange detour is over. All things considered, this detour has worked out extraordinarily well. When I think of all that we've been through, I realize that these were big things we had thought we would do "someday." It reminds me of the Doris Lessing quote: Whatever you're meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible. Damn if she wasn't right. We knew we wanted to experience the house-and-yard-life in Spokane, we knew we wanted J to do this coursework, and while we didn't leave Zurich to set out and do those things initially, I'm grateful we ended up right here, right now, doing them.

Even still, there is a piece of me that is shellshocked and hesitant, because it hasn't been easy. That piece can make me doubt myself and my ability to make decisions at all.

After a bit of Googling, I wasn't coming up with any good roadmaps for making major life decisions, so I drew upon what I've learned over the past few years, mixed it up with some conventional wisdom and anecdotes I've collected, and I'm eager to share it with you. If you'd like to make your own, grab a notebook or paper, some pencils and pens and let's dive in.

A complete road map for making major life decisions, straight ahead!

Identify Your Key Life Areas

The most crushing realization we experienced after we left Zurich was that, in our decision making, we had placed too much emphasis on career and work over (and to the detriment of) everything else in our lives. When it boils right down to it, J and I want meaningful work that contributes to the greater good, but we don't want our work to define us. It is not our top priority in life. Some people work to live, others live to work. We are definitely the former. For us, time is worth more than money, and family and marriage and inspiration come before work and finances. But it's a tricky balance.

After some researching and brainstorming, I adapted slightly a list I found online here and identified my key life areas as:
  1. Kids
  2. Marriage
  3. Social Life
  4. Inspiration
  5. Self
  6. Finances
  7. Work
Pretty much in that order, although some are tied, like marriage and kids. But, you get the idea. Before you start thinking my priorities are out of whack, remember these are my Key Life Areas. They're the HUGE top priorities in my life. Even though there is ranking within them, they're still the top items. So, that means that none of them can be allowed to suffer, even if others weigh more heavily. Make sense?

I think what really brings it into focus is making a list of the specifics that matter to you within each area. I jotted down a list for each category. For our kids, I want good schools, stability, friendships, integration and community. Most areas were easy to generate a list for, and others required more reflection in my case. Let's take a look at each area. When you're ready, be sure to turn off your phone and devote some time and energy to thinking about this. Or, chew on it for a bit and come back to it with pen and paper later.

Kids This might be family in your list and include your own brothers and sisters, parents, extended family and so on. One thing I've learned over the past few years is that it's really important for us to start making decisions for our little family, not my entire family anymore. As far as families go, mine is tight-knit and the expectation to live close and be heavily involved in one another's day-to-day lives is strong. But, I'm not sure that works for me, honestly. I've come to realize that the distance and autonomy we had while living abroad is something I really value. I love my family and extended family, but I'm focused on our little family right now: me, J and the kids. Tightening that focus is really helpful. How do you identify this area? What does family or kids represent in your life? What do you want in this life area?

Marriage This is my relationship with J. Obviously it's the most important relationship in my life and it needs to be strong in order for the kids to do well. It's hard for me to prioritize one over the other, but I do see an obligation we have to our kids as a couple. They didn't ask to be born. We owe it to them to give them the best possible childhood and situation. We are certainly not going to spoil them or let them make decisions. We are going to do a good job. Of course, our marriage is vitally important and is an entity separate from our family. It is important to invest time and energy in the marriage amid the demands of kids and family dynamics. How do you identify this area? How do you envision a spouse or partner enriching your life? How much are you willing to give? What do you want in this life area?

Social Life This is hugely important because as primates, we have a real need to belong to a social group. This includes friends, couple friends, and I especially need a Mama Tribe. I miss my mommy group in Zurich so much. I got so much support, care and reassurance from those gals. Even though we're all still in touch, it just isn't the same now that I don't see them every week. Another big piece that I didn't fully recognize mattered to us socially before we left Zurich was community events and community spaces. We loved the Christmas Markets, circuses, outdoor theater, etc that happened throughout the year in our neighborhood and in the city. And just as much, we loved the community feeling of being down at the lake grilling or walking or swimming at the Badi and enjoying the weather and being outdoors with literally hundreds of other people. Of course, we have our private patio and grill here in the US,  and that is wonderful in its own ways, but I miss that sense of being out with others. How do you identify this area? What aspects of social life matter most to you? What do you want in this life area?

Inspiration This might be spirituality or religious life for many people. Honestly, for me, that is not a high priority, but feeling inspired and being surrounded by beauty is hugely important and makes a big difference in my day-to-day life. I'm inspired in an urban environment, with beautiful surroundings, access to galleries, museums, gardens and travel. That's what feeds my soul. How do you identify this area? What inspires your spirit or gives you a connection to a higher power? What do you want in this life area?

Self It is essential to cultivate a rich relationship personally, with oneself. It might be called self-care for some, although that term is really overused and altogether too often winds up getting confused with pampering or self-indulgence. That's not what this is about. This is about knowing oneself, being honest with oneself and, yes, engaging in activities that feed oneself, too. For me, that's Bikram, traveling, hiking, writing, journaling, swimming, etc. For J it's running, skiing, hiking, traveling, swimming, etc. How do you identify this area? Do you make knowing yourself a high priority? What do you want in this life area?

Finances Here we include all the things that we need money for, such as savings, retirement, eating good-quality, healthful food, dressing well, vacations and travel, and fun. Money is important and has a great impact on our quality of life. It's also very accepted and respected to choose money over other life priorities in our culture. This is something to be aware of in our lives. How do you identify this area? Ask yourself what money can't replace or make up for in your life. What do you want in this life area?

Now, take some time and rank these areas from most important to least important right now. Throughout different seasons and phases of life, what's most important can and will change. Think of your circumstances and choose what matters most right now. None of these is allowed to suffer, remember, this is just how you weight them against each other when making a decision. This sharpens the focus on what your values are.

So let's say you were offered a job in another country or state. You would get valuable experience and make much more money, but you would have to leave your friends and church life behind. If Self, Work and Finances were your top three priorities, this would be a good choice for you. You could commit to finding a new church group to join, brainstorm ways to make friends in your new home and focus on the learning and growing that will take place for you individually. That would be a decision you'd be happy with.

But, if Family, Marriage and Social Life are your top three, it gets trickier. On the one hand, you might have better schools for your kids, and more time with your spouse with the new job role, but you'll have to seriously question how easy it will be to make friends and find a social network in the new place. Of course, your spouse might have Marriage, Self and Work as their top three. Then there is some compromise at play, but at least you'll go into it with open eyes, clear on who's giving up what and knowing what you'll need to work on.

This is not a perfect science. It's just a clarification of values. Very rarely are we ever in a situation where all of these are perfectly ideal. But ,knowing what really matters to you can help you prioritize and devote time, energy and resources toward the right stuff.

How do you make big decisions? Are you clear on what matters most to you in life?


  1. Always get so excited when I see a new blog post from you in my feedly! So on point. I especially love the part about making decisions for your "little family" - I too have had moments of regret about being so far away but I have come to realize how healthy that autonomy has been for our family. Kind of like sending a kiddo off to college, we have really been able to find our own identity!

    Also about being out in public with people. I always miss this so much in the US. From taking ubahn rides to being in parks to all the cultural events, there is just so much more being out with other people here - it's just part of the life in a big city (also in a lot of big cities in the US though!) we have a garden now so I feel like I get the best of both worlds. And I do not miss all the driving! ☺

    1. Oh that's so great to hear! Makes my day. And I love that you agree with me on the part about being out in public. It almost sounds crazy, so I'm glad you get it!! xoxo

  2. I really love this! I think it's an exercise that I would really benefit from; I'll have to find the time to do it. Thanks for sharing!

    1. You can also just roll it around in your mind. That's a very effective method!! xo

  3. I just submitted a grant application to go and work in another country for two years. It would be great for my career but terrible for the family and for my husband, but I was strongly encouraged by others so went along with the idea. Working on it, I steadily came to realise that even if I am awarded this wonderful opportunity I cannot accept it without inflicting major damage on those I love and the parts of my life I most value. It's just not worth it. I wonder if it will have long term effects on my career, but I think I'm willing to make the call.

    These major life decisions are tough. I hope the award committee make the decision easy for me!

    Also, I wonder where the idea of place fits into your list? My home and it's landscape are deeply important to me and play not a little part in my thinking above. You write often and beautifully about home, place, movement and emotive land and city scapes, so I was surprised by their relative absence apart from an aspect of your inspiration.

    1. Wow, that's huge, Lucy! So this comes at just the right time. Sometimes there is short term difficulty that is worth it if there is long term payoff. If the deal is good and the terms are clear and everything checks out (run it by as many knowledgable people in your field and people who have made the same move/done the same thing as you can!!!!) then, maybe it's worth it. Twists and turns are what life is all about, right? Good luck with that decision - if you have one to make. If not, well done putting yourself out there.

      And yes, place. That's a good one. I was actually looking back at my blog from when I went to Switzerland the first time (in 2006, by myself, just for a year. It needs to be cleaned up terribly. I tried to merge the two and it was just a giant mess...) but, I came across this post about being homesick http://swisslark.blogspot.com/2006/09/being-sick-makes-me-homesick.html - and feeling confused about where home even was. I'm sad to say I still don't have a firm sense of home. Living in Spokane has shown me I'm not from here. Not even close! Anyway, thanks for pointing that out. I think there may be a full post in there! ;) xoxoxo

  4. Navigating life’s big decisions is like creating a road map for making important life choices. Like Writing a legal agreement between two parties, it takes careful planning, clear goals, and common understanding. Just like a well-written contract ensures a successful partnership, a well-thought-out road map prepares the ground for good decisions that lead to a life full of meaning and direction.


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