By Richard C. Tizzano
When it comes to making a decision about a product or service, we are generally accustomed to having all of the available options at our finger tips before we make our selection. We can access the Google search engine or go directly to Amazon. We enter the name of the item we want to buy and are presented a nearly exhaustive list of options. We can shuffle the list according to price, color, category, reviews, etc. Once we have narrowed the list down to our top choices, we can use the "compare" feature to see them presented, side by side, in order to make a final selection.
If only life were so easy! It's June, that time of year when we are reminded that the big decisions, the ones that really matter in life, must occasionally be made. You likely know at least one person who is graduating. They are graduating from, or into, something. Most graduation ceremonies will include a "commencement". This term is especially fitting because it suggests that a person is moving forward and beginning something new. This is one of the seasons in life where big decisions need to be made. Decisions about what to do next usually begins with the question, "What do I want to do with my life?" The task of deciding is even more daunting in view of the realization that by choosing one option you are eliminating all of the other possibilities!
As an elder law attorney, I meet with people every day who find themselves, or someone they love, “commencing" into an “Accidental Safari.” A sudden medical emergency, such as a fall or the onset of disease, has unexpectedly thrust them onto a journey into unknown territory. They have had no choice about taking the journey, but once it begins, the decisions that must be made, from a dizzying list of options, appear endless. This decision-making process becomes an additional excruciating part of the journey.
It is a paradigm shift. In the past, the decision making process began from a place of knowing what we want and led to a decision about the best option for us. We weighed the individual values of price, color, features, reviews, etc. and made a decision from all of the available options. But, when we find ourselves unexpectedly thrust into the unfamiliar territory of an "Accidental Safari", having to navigate the myriad challenges and crises that appear, we are more often unprepared to know what we need, let alone what we want. If we don’t know the difference between assisted living, an adult family home, or a dementia care facility, how can we possibly know which type of care would best meet our needs or even whether the monthly costs are reasonable?
There are two reasons why decision making on the "Safari" is difficult. First, people are often "stuck" in the decision-making process because they are not sure what they need. The landscape ahead is so completely unfamiliar they have no idea how to prepare for it. Second, even if they have prepared for the journey, they often become paralyzed by a sudden fear that in making decisions they may miss a better option that they didn't know existed. By choosing one option we have eliminated all of the others. Add to this the reality that, in crisis, all of the options may seem to be "poor" ones. Remember, we are used to choosing exactly what we want to meet our needs. When deciding between a list of options that offer disappointing outcomes we can be uncomfortable about making a choice that doesn't meet our expectations. We may be unwilling to make a decision because of our belief that there may be a better option coming just around the next turn in the road.
Our best hope for decision making on an Accidental Safari is to walk with an experienced guide. Seeking out professionals who can present all of the available options and explain the possible outcomes can give us confidence to make the necessary decisions and bring us peace of mind.
Mr. Tizzano's new book Accidental Safari is available on Amazon.