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Negative Outcomes and Good Decisions

I love reading or listening to Annie Duke.  If you don’t know her, she’s a professional poker player.  While I have zero interest in poker, she is fascinating because she speaks often about strategy, especially strategy when you don’t have all the facts at your disposal, such as when you’re playing cards or making major life decisions (like family building).

Her book — Thinking in Bets — is coming out in early February.  I will definitely be reading it.  I’m going to guess you will, too, when you read the central question as per this article: “If a well-reasoned decision leads to a negative outcome, was it the wrong decision?


We live that question every single day.  We make well-reasoned decisions that do not lead us to parenthood.  And then what?  How do you evaluate that decision, distancing your brain from the outcome?

I love this thought: “Wrap your arms around the uncertainty. Accept it. Know that the way things turn out has a lot of luck involved so don’t be so hard on yourself when things go badly and don’t be so proud of yourself when they go well. Focus on process instead.”  I have more thoughts about luck that I’m tossing around, but I think that word works here.

Read this interview if you have time because she says some very smart things about evaluating your decisions so you can make better decisions in the future, not so you can beat yourself up about past decisions.


1 Working mom of 2 { 01.07.18 at 11:12 am }

There are some things in life where you have to try, at least do you have no regrets. So in those situations I would not say it was a wrong decision.

I’d probably feel that way about TTC, but not sure to what extent, bc I’m very fortunate to have it end in kids. If I had spent > 100K and ended up childless would I feel the last 50K or do was a wrong decision? Hard to say.

2 Lori Lavender Luz { 01.07.18 at 11:51 am }

No. It isn’t necessarily a wrong decision.

I think we studied something like this in business school. Most of the time we are operating with imperfect knowledge. The price of perfect knowledge is often too high. There is so much unknown and uncontrollable between decision and outcome that you can’t reliably draw a strict cause-and-effect line between them.

3 Lori Lavender Luz { 01.07.18 at 11:53 am }

And thank you for posting this and making me think about it. Now I can let myself off the hook for some decisions I’ve made in the past that didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped.

4 Beth { 01.07.18 at 1:44 pm }

This is tough. I try really hard to remember that I did the best I could in the moment. Although I did end my ttc journey with kids, I like to believe that regardless of the outcome I made the best decisions in those moments as anything else would have meant not doing everything possible to build my family. That is how I try to live – is there anything left to do? Any regrets? And then if I don’t achieve my outcome I try to focus on that – sometimes successful, sometimes not. I do like Annie duke and look forward to her book.

5 Mali { 01.07.18 at 7:41 pm }

I’m going to read the article, and interview, but will comment first. (Yes, completely uninformed). I like the sound of this. I’ve said for a long time that we make the best decisions we can at the time, with the information we have at the time. We can’t blame ourselves at how things turn out.

Would I have waited so many years to decide to try to have children? Knowing what I know now, I might not. But my decisions were based on important principles and feelings to me, so maybe I would. And I don’t know that the outcome might have been different.

I like the advice “don’t be so proud of yourself ” if things turned out well. Maybe it was just luck, as she says. Or privilege that we don’t recognise.

I’m looking forward to the reading I’m off to do now. (And to add the book to my “To-Buy” Goodreads list!) Thanks, Mel!

6 torthuil { 01.08.18 at 12:10 am }

Very good points. Yes, it’s important to make decisions with the knowledge that you have limited capacity to assess the situation and many outcomes are possible. Accepting risk I guess. And yes it’s eady to take too much credit for things working out and too much blame for the opposite. Easy to say hard to live. I guess one thing that helped me was observing my behaviour when living in a foreign city. I have a poor sense of direction and tend to take a lot of wrong turns before taking the right one. I eventually generalized this to life and concluded that as long as I picked the right direction eventually, and was safe at the end of the day, I was fine. It helped me let go of the insistence that I must do the right thing every single time, and that being temporarily lost was a crisis. Rather, it is just the way life works.

7 Jess { 01.08.18 at 6:50 pm }

I love this! I love the freedom to let go of my past decisions, because I’m always second guessing everything after the fact. Especially when we came to our child-free resolution, I was like, “did we do the right things? What if we had made this turn instead of that one?” and it’s true, it’s fruitless. Those were the best decisions at the time and we have no idea if it would have gone any differently had we pursued something else, or a different option earlier. And I like the idea that good fortune isn’t creditable either, because you didn’t necessarily have as much control over THAT, either. Excellent read! Who knew, poker as life lessons!

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