“Pick your hard” is terrible framing for decision-making

Recently a post popped up in my LinkedIn newsfeed describing how a business coach helped the poster think about decisions using the “pick your hard” framing. The poster used as an example of this approach the framing that “staying healthy is hard” and “having a chronic illness is hard.” The idea is that you can pick one or the other.

Listen.

That is some ableist bullshit right there.

I am sorry, poster, that you heard that and I am sorry that you took it to heart and I am really sorry you’re spouting it out at other people.

My daughter was born with a massively deformed brain. She did not get to pick her hard. As her mother, I didn’t get to pick my hard, either.

When she was born, people wanted to blame me for her condition. They wanted to know what I had done wrong—what medicine I had taken, what precaution I had failed to take. They wanted to know how I had screwed up.

I cannot express how horrifically painful this was as I held my dying daughter in my arms. I was expected to assuage their fears while in the middle of deep suffering and grief.

My daughter survived but my relationship with anyone who had the brass balls to blame me for it didn’t. Her disease is the result of a random genetic mutation, not a lifestyle choice. For fuck’s sake.

I get it. People are scared. They don’t want bad things to happen to them. They want to believe it’s all a matter of choice. I get that mindset. But it’s also juvenile and immature.

It’s not only ableist and shockingly lacking in compassion (for oneself and others) it reveals the kind of black-and-white thinking that doesn’t lead to good decisions. Either-or framing is actually proven to be dramatically bad for effective decision-making. (Read Decisive by Chip Heath and Dan Heath for starters.)

Real decision-making is about weighing complicated factors, risks, consequences, opportunity costs, and tradeoffs. “Pick your hard” may sound good but it is infantile.

Good decision-making starts with understanding and defining what the problem is. “I don’t like my job” is a different problem from “I don’t make enough money at my job.”

A question I’m frequently asked is “Should I quit my job and freelance?” But this is an example of that either-or thinking that gets people into so much trouble. If the problem is “I dislike my job” then there are multiple potential solutions:

  • Stay at my job as is. Suck it up.
  • Talk with my boss about solving the problems I have with my job.
  • Talk with colleagues and coworkers about actions I can take to like my job better.
  • Find a new job.
  • Explore freelancing while I look for a new job.
  • Explore freelancing while I stay at my old job.
  • Work as a freelancer as a side gig for at least six months to see if I can earn enough money at it.
  • Retrain for some other job.

And undoubtedly there are others I didn’t think of in the three minutes I took to brainstorm that list. Each option has risks and rewards, upsides and downsides. Some actions will have consequences that can create other problems. Talking to my boss may lead him to think I’m looking for a new job and fire me. Working a freelance side gig might reduce the amount of time I spend with my family, negatively impacting our relationships.

Figuring out what choice will lead to the best outcome without triggering a negative consequence can be summed up as “it depends.” If I have a good boss who listens when I say that the work is boring, then that choice is more realistic than if my boss is toxic and will call security the minute I bring up the fact that treating employees like criminals lowers the morale.

That’s what real decision-making is: dependent on multiple factors, complicated, and challenging. It’s not simplistic platitudes that insult anyone who has gotten past the age of ten.

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