A number of years ago, I spent the better part of two days panicked when I had to make a quick decision on a job offer that had come my way.
In today's economy, it may be hard to see where the problem was. But back then, I was daunted.
You see, like Steve Jobs, I always believed that each decision would be based on the last, and that my life could be traced back through the series of choices I'd made. But unlike Jobs, I hadn't figured out an important caveat to this.
As Jobs said in his 2005 commencement address at Stanford, "you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards." So there I was, totally paralyzed—not because this new opportunity posed much risk in and of itself, but because I couldn't determine the path it would put me on; I couldn't connect the dots forward.
As I often do when I'm at a crossroads, I called my dad. He told me something that I instantly recognized as sage advice, even if it took me several more years to truly understand it: "Every decision you make is the right one." In other words, the best you can do in making a major life choice is to apply everything you know about yourself at that moment and then go ahead and choose; you will have made the selection you did because it was the best one for you at that time, and later, if you wish, you can always look back and see how the dots connected.
"Every decision you make is the right one." It's my go-to piece of advice now for friends in the throes of stressful decision-making. It doesn't apply universally. It won't work if you mean to sabotage yourself (as people sometimes do).
It won't work if you mean to sabotage others or if you're putting the short term ahead of the long term. (So all those stupid loans pre-crisis? Those decisions were not the right ones.) But when you need to make a decision that will have a meaningful, sustainable impact on your life, "every decision you make is the right one" is an excellent way to think.
I was reminded of my dad's advice as a committee of editors at American Banker set out to determine the Best in Banking for 2012, designating a Banker of the Year and three Community Bankers of the Year, along with an Innovator of the Year and a Lifetime Achievement honoree.
Our selections were made in good faith, with the twin missions of honoring strong work and propelling the banking industry forward by scouting out best practices from around the industry and sharing them with our readership.
But would our decisions turn out to be the right ones? Picks from recent years—U.S. Bancorp's Richard Davis in 2010, M&T's Bob Wilmers in 2011—have thus far made us proud. But it's possible to get disappointed—just ask anyone here in 2006, when Angelo Mozilo won the Lifetime Achievement honor. That's some cringe-worthy history right there.
But when I looked back at the testimonials, I saw the Countrywide founder described as a "pacesetter for the mortgage industry" who embraced the opportunities of a converging financial services marketplace. And I think that holds true.
Would we choose him today? Not a chance. But at the time, given what was known about him up until that moment, he arguably was a valid pick, regardless of the sad legacy from the final years of a tenure that began back in 1969. I trust our pride in this year's Best in Banking picks will be more enduring. But I accept that it's a risk to put anyone on a pedestal.