For many summers, my wife and children spent extended periods visiting our families in New York and Connecticut. So Sunday night for me meant goodbyes, a travel mug of strong coffee, and a long, solitary commute home, during which I often listened to Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s call-in advice program on the radio.
What I remember most from those scratchy AM broadcasts was a particular admonition that Dr. Laura gave to many of the lost souls who populated her program. Whenever a caller would ask for her help in making a decision, Dr. Laura would sternly advise, “You already know what you should do. You just want me to give you the courage or permission to do it.”
I was reminded of Dr. Laura recently when I had a conversation with Maggie Chan Jones, SAP’s Chief Marketing Officer, about the best way to decide between two equally attractive career opportunities. Maggie shared with me a great piece of advice that she once received from her coach when she was in that situation.
“Flip a coin,” she said. “It worked for me.”
Now, I don’t know Maggie all that well, but she seems like a pretty grounded and thoughtful person. So I was quite surprised that she would let a random act like flipping a coin decide the course of her career. The quizzical look on my face must have betrayed my unspoken skepticism because she quickly jumped in and explained.
“It’s not about leaving it up to chance and actually letting the coin flip make the decision for you. It’s about how you feel just at the moment it turns up heads or tails. That instant emotion–whether excitement, relief, or disappointment–tells you which path to take. If you are happy about the flip’s result, take that option. If you feel let down by it, choose the other. But trust the emotion you feel right at that moment.”
I’ve been around the block a few times and am not easily caught off guard, but now I know what the Brits mean when they use the term “gobsmacked.” The simple beauty of Maggie’s advice floored me: Use the coin flip as a forcing function to strip away all the layers of rationalization, logic, and caution that separate us from our inner truths. Because deep down, we do know. We all do. And now we have a mechanism–the simple coin flip– to give us the courage and permission to take the actions we know we must.
So next time you face a big decision, take Maggie’s advice. Flip a coin.