10-10-10: Suzy Welch’s Decision-Making Guide

Sometimes I make bad decisions. I also will probably have a lot of difficult decisions to make in the neat future. And I feel like some of the poor choices that I made recently had long-term consequences that I didn’t anticipate. I would like to avoid that as much as possible in future decision-making, which is why my mom recently gave me a copy of 10-10-10 by Suzy Welch.

The premise of 10-10-10 is simple and not revolutionary. Basically, for every decision, you’re supposed to think about how this will affect you/your life/your priorities for the next 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years. Or in other words, the short-term, middle-term and long-term. The 10-10-10 just provides a catchy framework for keeping those future times in mind. That’s pretty much it. Of course, you can’t sell a book with that one sentence, so Welch bulked it up with stories of people using 10-10-10 in all aspects of their life. She also provides a framework to help readers determine and lay out their core values, so they can keep those in mind when making decisions. And, most interestingly to me, discussed the decision-making process of humans and some of the logical errors that we almost universally make.

Cover of the book 10-10-10 by Suzy Welch. Features the author, a slim middle-aged woman with brown hair, smiling and sitting on a stool

When I was reading this book, I was keeping in mind two things.  The first was the biggest mistake I have made in recent memory, and that was quitting my job a year and a half ago. The second thing I kept in mind is how I would make a decision about what job I should take, should I ever be lucky enough to find somewhere that wants to hire me. I’m so worried about making the wrong choice again, that I don’t want to choose anywhere to work.

As many of you know, I am a social worker by education. A year and a half ago I quit my sinking ship job in the middle of agency restructuring. They were changing the program, I wasn’t interested in the model that they were planning on using, people were quitting or being laid off left and right and I jumped ship as well. To give myself credit, I didn’t quit with no job lined up at all. I had a job at The Worst Mental Health Agency Ever. I had been warned that the new job probably wasn’t all I wanted it to be, but I didn’t listen. Two weeks in to The Worst Mental Health Agency Ever (TWMHAE), I realized that it was not going to work out and I quit on the spot. That wasn’t the bad choice, I maintain that quitting TWMHAE was the right choice, but I never should have quit Original Job. Reading 10-10-10, I went back over what my process had been when I quit Original Job.  It wasn’t an off-the-cuff decision, but it was made keeping only the short- and middle-terms in mind.  I didn’t want to be in that job anymore.  In the short-term I was frustrated and angry. Quitting made me feel like a load was taken off. I wanted to cut ties with an agency that I thought didn’t keep the best interests of either its workers or its clients in mind. In the middle-term, I also didn’t want to be there. I couldn’t imagine spending another year or two in that job, especially knowing that coming down the pike was a program that I would like even less. In the middle-term, I thought, I would be much happier spending the next year and a half somewhere else. What I didn’t plan for, was that the next year and a half would be spent either unemployed or working part time at a minimum wage job that possibly even more aggravating than Original Job was. This is one of the logical errors that Welch mentions in her book. “Hyperbolic discounting” is when one acts like the future doesn’t exist or it will be ideal. I definitely did that when keeping the mind the middle-term. “This will be great! I’ll be outta here! Nothing can possibly go wrong at TWMHAE or anywhere else in my life!” Yeah. I was so wrong.

The biggest error in my judgment came, though, when I didn’t consider the long term. Some of my core values, my Five Year Plan if you will, are to: get my clinical license, get married to my boyfriend, move out of the city and buy a house, have children. I didn’t consider any of those core values, and certainly not the consequences that my short-term-only thinking would have on my long-term plans.  If I had stayed at Original Job, I would have my clinical license by now. My boyfriend and I would have saved up enough money to consider buying a house, and we could be married, or at least engaged. I don’t have any of that, because I didn’t consider the long-term. And then I started thinking about how often I make a decision based on only the short and middle-term benefits. And I’ll be honest, most of the time I make a decision because I want the immediate gratification. That’s another logical error that Welch mentions in her book.  I have spent every day for the past 18 months rueing my decision to quit my job, but never really understanding WHY I had made the choice I had.

Now I am in the process of applying to, and very rarely, interviewing for other social work positions. Most recently, I had one that would be a long commute from our house. The thought of commuting for 3 hours total every day for a year or two bums me out. I don’t want to do it. But I want to continue to be stagnant even less, and I want to keep those long-term goals in mind. This has been infinitely helpful and every time I catch myself thinking, “Well, this wouldn’t be an ideal situation in the short term.” I remind myself that my current situation also isn’t ideal, and more importantly, isn’t getting me to where I want to be in the future. I also remind myself to consider both the pros and cons of the 10-10-10 for every outcome I could choose. When I left Original Job, I would say I mostly considered the cons of staying, and the pros of leaving.  When you make that error in judgment, of course the option of leaving is going to be best – you set it up that way!

Now, Suzy Welch would have you believing that 10-10-10 is going to lead you in the right direction for all decisions, big or small, for the rest of your life. I think Welch might be employing a little bit of hyperbolic thinking in that regard. If I had 10-10-10-ed my decision to leave my original job, there’s still a chance I would have completely discounted that last 10 anyway. I might still have given more weight to my immediate gratification and only focused on the pros of leaving. I may have needed to make that mistake to learn enough to not make similar mistakes in the future. There’s no way to know. But I do know that even though I feel overwhelmed with the possibility of making another career mistake, I can sit down with a 10-10-10 grid of pros and cons, and at least I will have thought it through next time.

By Luci Furious

There are no bad times, only good stories.

2 replies on “10-10-10: Suzy Welch’s Decision-Making Guide”

I like this. I think synopsizing this way makes me less likely to buy the book, unfortunately for the author, but it does make me likely to use the method. Another good decision-making method I learned in high school was something like, List the facts, Imagine the possibilities, Seek outside opinions, Turn inward, Expect God’s help (maybe I learned this at Sunday school…?), and Name your decision. Which doesn’t help the short-middle-long-term issue, but does help me think about how to approach a seemingly complicated issue in small pieces.

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