Amy kept having the same dream. Night after
night she dreamed that her bed, her floor, her whole room,
was covered with examinations, want ads and college catalogs.
All she could do was tiptoe through the stacks, yelling for
help. Her friends found it a laughable picture, but for Amy
it was a nightmare!
Dan admitted to a similar problem, telling about
the dead-end phone conversations he and Rachel had carried
on all summer. Even his younger brother teased him, he said,
about how indecisive they sounded. "Hi! Whatcha doin'?"
"Wanna do somethin'?"
"I dunno. What'll we do?"
"I dunno. What do you wanna do?"
Everyone was laughing by the time Dan finished,
but mostly because they had memories of conversations like
The group had been friends since grade school.
Their exchange began while trying to decide if they might
go to a movie together. If they did, which one would it be?
Amy remained undecided and Susan, teasingly, called her "C.D."
It wasn't the first time! "C.D." was short for "Can't
Amy? It was Amy who had been called a strong-willed
baby, a determined toddler. Most of this group still remembered
her as the self-confident Girl Scout who had decided to sell
200 boxes of cookies and had exceeded her own goal. Why, she
asked, had her feelings of sureness about life abandoned her
when she left grade school? Why did so many things now demand
immediate answers? Why, she wondered sadly, was "C.D."
a name that fit?
Have you ever felt like "Can't Decide"
could be your nickname? Do you ever have nightmares
like Amy's? Phone calls like Dan and Rachel's? If so, you're
a perfectly normal teen!
The "Can't Decides" often move in
on teenagers because the whole world is suddenly opening its
doors. You now make thousands of decisions for yourself. Adults
in your life are starting to step back at the very times they
used to step in and tell you what to do. They're starting
to watch how you handle things. They more often allow for
your opinions. Finally, you say, they see how much I know!
But it can be paralyzing! What if the path you pick is unpopular
or unacceptable to your friends and family? What if you make
a big mistake?
Every day is packed with decisions, from the
ones that won't matter in a minute or two, to the ones that
will make a difference forever. What shall we do tonight?
What shall I wear? Who shall I ask to the prom? What kind
of summer job do I want? Shall I go steady with Mike? What's
my stand on drugs? Should I go to college? Through big and
small decisions like these, you're asking yourself daily,
"Who am I?" Answers aren't so simple.
Coming down on a certain side of things can
be an emotionally painful part of growing up. It isn't easy
to start out on your own course, when the stakes are so obviously
high in the adult arena you're about to enter. It's understandable
if you sometimes feel you'd like to be a spectator in life,
having someone else make your big decisions, while you stand
in the wings and see how things turn out. It almost makes
sense to take a watch-and-see, whatever-happens-happens attitude.
So many answers are needed so quickly! Why not just flip a
Taking responsibility for your life's direction
and actively making decisions about your goals and needs is
a big job. The biblical Letter of James was written to people
who were having trouble doing just that. The author of that
letter saw that important decisions needed to be made in an
attitude of faith. Wisdom to make good decisions, he felt,
would be given to those who asked for it. On the other hand,
people who couldn't make a decision seemed to have "two
minds" and were unstable. This, he thought, wasn't necessary
for anyone with faith in the Lord.
Who Should Decide?
Your parents have years of experience and generally
care about your well-being. As you shift from letting them
make decisions for your life, it's tempting to simply transfer
the role to your friends. Letting friends decide for you may
seem easy, but it means that sometimes you'll be going places
you don't necessarily enjoy. It can mean using up precious
hours of your life in ways you may not find personally fulfilling.
It can mean being bored, picking nothing, learning nothing,
doing nothing. It means leaving the role of leader or "decider"
to someone else (sometimes anyone else) and that could be
someone less mature than yourself, even someone with bad or
The clearer your concept is of who you are
and what you really want, the easier it will be to
make personal decisions. No one else sees the world exactly
as you do and no one has exactly the same interests and talents.
With friends, compromise is required but it's important that
the compromising be done by everyone involved.
Knowing yourself well is a lifetime task, but
start now to ask the questions this knowledge requires. Are
you a sympathetic listener? Then you may choose to spend time
listening to friends, maybe even giving out a bit of advice.
Perhaps you'll decide to enter a "helping" profession.
Are you a whiz at computers? A person who loves the out-of-doors?
Are you family-oriented? A loner? Good at music? Art? Are
you a good person who not only likes other people but suspects
there's a plan behind human existence? You may decide to take
some time out now and then to think over life's puzzles, to
pray, to find ways to make the world a better place. What's
important is to learn to make decisions consistent with who
you really are.
Xavier, for instance, played guitar. It meant
far more to him than just taking lessons and occasionally
playing at a dance or concert. He began to see himself pursuing
a career in music. Creating new songs was the best part of
every day. On weekends, Xavier often chose to work on his
music. Sometimes he felt guilty, as though he wasn't a faithful
friend. He was also afraid of being rejected or ridiculed.
He considered lying, saying that his parents wouldn't let
him go out. Finally Xavier leveled with his crowd. "I
wish I could do two things at once," he said, "but
since I can't, I'm going to stay home more often and work
on my music."
The group was surprised. Some tested the strength
of his decision. Others joked about his being a rock star.
In the end, when he stuck by his choice, most were true friends.
They knew his music was important to him. Later a friend with
a growing interest in languages admitted that Xavier had opened
the door for others in the group to begin making some independent
choices, too. Jeanne spent the summer abroad in an exciting
Because Xavier and Jeanne were starting to see
a clearer picture of who they were and who they were becoming,
the decision to give more time to their special interests
was easy. In time it became easier for their friends to respect
their interests as well.
Indecisive days can be truly frustrating, but
they do strike all of us, no matter what our age, from time
to time. With practice and belief in yourself, you
can learn to be more decisive, more in control of your days
and your life.
Six Keys to Try in a Deadlock
Amy, like many adolescents, worried that she'd
left behind her confident self when she left childhood. She
did not realize that within her there still was the strong,
faithful core that once had been the willful baby, the determined
toddler, the decisive young person. No matter how difficult
you now find decision-making, you can get in touch with that
core, the center of yourself, the true you, the you who used
to know what to do! Decision-making need not be left to "Can't
decide," "Whatever happens, happens!" or the
flip of a coin.
1. Break problems down. Deal with one
decision at a time. When you are presented with several choices,
and you try to weigh them in your mind, your brain can switch
into "overload" like a 3-1/2-hp. lawn mower balking
at two weeks' growth of wet grass. Just like dividing your
studying or room cleaning into small, tolerable chunks, the
easiest approach to decision-making is to break things down
to one choice at a time. Give your problem a name.
Example: My problem is: "I want
to pick a fashionable prom dress without a price tag to match."
"I have to choose a college by spring break." "I
need a way to say 'Absolutely No!' to Gary before he pushes
me into saying 'Yes.'"
Use simple words and write your problem down.
Anything you can name and put in a sentence, you can begin
2. Gather information. It is within
your right to pin down parents, teachers, employers and friends
to get necessary information. You can be nice, but you don't
have to feel shy about doing this. Asking questions shows
that you are a person with plans and goals of your own and
no longer a kid. People will come to respect you as someone
who has obligations and needs like their own.
Examples: You want to buy a stereo but
you're short on money. Your parents want the house painted.
You might say: "Could I earn the money I need by scraping,
sanding, priming and painting the house?" To your teacher
you might say: "I can come early for practice on Tuesdays
and Thursdays and still get my studies done. That's as much
time as I can sacrifice. Is there any problem with that?"
To an employer: "I'd like the job, but how many Saturdays
would I need to work? I'm also going out for football."
To friends: "Who's going to be at the party? I'm going
somewhere else if Bill and his booze are coming."
When you're close to knowing what you want to
do, you may want to ask the opinion of your parents or friends
whom you respect. Because everyone likes his or her own ideas,
be aware that some advisers get their feelings hurt when their
suggestions aren't followed. You can show appreciation for
the opinions of others without obligating yourself to follow
their advice. In the end, opinions are like noses. Everyone
has one, but you'll probably like some better than others.
3. Move off dead center. Believing
firmly that your strong inner core already knows what you
want to do on a given matter, even if the outer you isn't
sure, try this: Think how you react when someone tells you
something that you must do! Right away you can think of reasons
why you don't want to do it, can't you? It works the same
when you're in deadlock. When you pick a decision from several
possibilities and tell yourself that decision "A"
(for example) is what you must do, a surprising thing happens.
Without the confusion of several plans bouncing about, your
brain takes readings of your truest feelings and tells you
all the reasons why plan "A" is or is not a good
Try this on yourself. Or when you have a friend
who's undecided about something, try what Susan did to get
Amy to decide about the movie. When Amy couldn't decide whether
she wanted to go to the movie, to her sister's basketball
game or stay home to bake cookies, Susan said, "Right!
Then I'll pick you up at six for the movie!" (It's important
to be very definite here!) "No!" Amy shot back.
"We can go to a movie any time. Let's go to the game!"
Suddenly, without "overload," she knew what she
wanted to do.
4. Try God. When a decision must
be made, it often comes in confusion. Talking to another person
about some things may seem impossible or embarrassing. When
it feels like no one could understand, there is still one
who willGod. You say you haven't discussed anything
with God lately?
Amazingly, our God doesn't pout and refuse to
answer the door. Granted, it takes a bit of faith, and practice,
to see divine guidance in the working-out of your plans, but
God is there. If you find it difficult to talk to God, remember
your fears and concerns are understood before you even try
to explain. Don't worry about having the right words. Ramble
if you want and repeat yourself. God doesn't mind. Nor does
your creator quit listening because you haven't been praying
Example: "O.K., Lord, you see this
mess... Larry wants me to date only him, but I like Jim too...
There're Suzie's feelings to consider... Help me to know my
own mind. Help me to do the right thing..." The psalmist
David used these words: "Probe me, O God, and know my
heart; try me and know my thoughts; see if my way is crooked."
Talking to God does two things: It starts you zeroing in on
the problem, getting your true feelings out, and it opens
you up to feel God's gentle nudgings.
5. Let go and learn. When you
have asked God to be a part of your decision and you've looked
at your problem in these ways, it's time to proceed with the
plan that feels right and to be ready to learn from its outcome.
Allow yourself the luxury of feeling good about having made
the best decision you know how to make. Begin, even with small
doubts, to go forward, putting your plans into action, standing
behind what you've set into motion and claiming responsibility
This is not to say that once a decision is made
you can never change your mind. Sometimes, when you would
not be inconveniencing someone or letting them down in a big
way, you can. Stay on the alert as you put your plan into
action. If you begin to feel you are making a mistake and
if your course is still correctable, do not feel embarrassed
to admit the mistake and say that you'd like to change your
6. Don't dwell in the past. Every living
person leaves a trail of little and big mistakes. You will
make mistakes too. But God is Love. Love does not want you
to be immobilized by things you've done in the past. When
you have made a bad decision, and it is positively too late
to do anything about it, you must live with the mistake and
accept the embarrassment. Mistakes can hurt, but not forever.
Ask forgiveness of anyone you may have hurt
and ask for God's help and forgiveness. Then, forgive yourself!
Finding Your Path
When you feel that you've made your peace with
God and yourself, don't let anyone continue to send you on
an extended guilt trip, and don't keep knocking yourself.
You can help others, especially parents, to drop the subject
of your poor decision if you are brave enough to admit: "I
goofed! I've learned from that mistake!" What parents
fear, beneath their sometimes gruff exterior, is that you
haven't learned and will repeat a mistake at a later
Building confidence in decision-making and sharing
your thinking and decisions with others takes time. Amy and
Dan, with help from their friends, slowly came to rely on
the thread of knowledge and truth within them. They began
to have greater trust in their decision-making ability. They
learned how to turn six keys to get out of deadlock.
For her times of greatest stress and lowest
self-confidence, Amy still keeps a little note which the group
wrote to her. She taped it to her bathroom mirror where she
could read it whenever papers or plans seem to be burying
her. The note says: "AmyYou are a good person!
You can make good decisions."
If decision-making is a difficult task for you
at this time in your life, pin a similar message up where
you'll see it every day. Read it! Believe it! Begin to trust
yourself and go forward. You are a child of God, and have
every right to seek and to find your path in the universe.
Youth Update advisers who previewed
this issue, suggested important changes and asked questions
of the author are Andrew "Abdul" Carranza, 16; Yvonne
Molina, 16; Nancy Palermo, 16; and Brian Redden, 16. Yvonne
and Brian are members of St. Savior Parish, Rossmoyne, Ohio,
Abdul is from Good Shepherd Parish, Cincinnati, while Nancy
attends St. Philip Parish in Morrow, Ohio.