7 Lessons from a Bad Decision

Looking back on our lives can be uncomfortable, especially when recalling failures and bad decisions. However, I've discovered through circumstances that seem negative, we can learn valuable, life-changing truths. I want to glean from the past, so I’m willing to endure the discomfort of retrospect to grow and move forward.

Four years ago, I surprised a lot of people by walking away from a good situation. I was the senior leader of a large church that experienced significant growth under my leadership and was on the verge of multiplying. I assembled and worked with a wonderful team, earned the respect of the congregation and community, and enjoyed many life-giving relationships. Then I left.

The next 28 months, following this decision, was the worst season of my personal and professional life. It was a sadistic parenthesis in what had been a successful and fulfilling ministry career. My family and I were hurt, exhausted, and disillusioned.

So, these are the lessons learned that I’ve thought of in the last several weeks during my quiet times and moments of introspection that I pray will sustain me in the years ahead:

Poor Decisions Can Be Costly

The weight that is often placed on good decision making is justified.

Never Forsake Wisdom

In the book of Proverbs, King Solomon writes that we should not reject or turn our back on wisdom. He says if we receive and follow wise counsel, it will protect and guard our lives while pointing us to the right path. But if we forsake wisdom, we open ourselves up to the consequences of living our own way. We become susceptible to unnecessary trouble and distress.

I wish I could say that I didn’t receive wise counsel before I made my decision. I wish I could say that no one took the time to give me measured feedback and insight. But that would not be true, unfortunately.

Go With Your Gut

If you are making a life decision and have a consistent gut feeling that something is off, you’re probably right. Throughout the process, I had a hunch, an instinctive sense that things were amiss with the situation and key individuals. Could I pinpoint exactly what was bothering me? No, but I knew something was wrong as I observed details and took part in conversations.

Needless to say, I did not go with my gut. I ignored what Malcolm Gladwell's book, Blink refers to as "intuitive repulsion," or the ability to reach immediate, accurate conclusions without knowing how you came to them. I disregarded these feelings as snap judgments and failed to value them in a way that could’ve helped me make a better choice.

Within the first two months, there were some sickening moments of realization. The subconscious uneasiness felt in the lead up came to pass in real time. But I’ve learned through it all to trust my gut and that sometimes rapid recognition and first impressions can be an educated, powerful tool to help us make good decisions.

It Can’t Be About One Thing

Recently, I was on the phone with a friend doing a post mortem of the last two years. This particular friend also happens to be an accomplished leadership coach. As we talked, he noticed I kept referring back to one factor that ultimately led to my decision. He then dropped this on me:

"When it comes to making a decision to move, relocate your family and take a position that will consume a vast majority of your life, it can't just be about one thing. More often than not, if the decision rises and falls on one reason, things don't work out. Then you’re stuck. I've seen it in my own life and the lives of many other leaders."

I cringed. He had just described a major flaw in my process. I didn’t establish a cumulative reason to make such a move. I based it on one thing; a thing that I overemphasized and overestimated. An illusionary factor that had burned me before and did once again.

Discontentment Is A Liar

I’ve struggled with discontentment for my entire adult life and discovered that it is a liar. It tells you that your worth is based solely on the measure of your achievement and volume of your activity. It whispers in your most vulnerable moments that no matter what is occurring, there is always something more to be, possess, and experience.

Discontentment suppresses the fulfillment of honest work, ignores your progress, and misses the joy of the moment. It doesn't allow you to celebrate and tells you to move on from significant events almost as they happen. It puts a greater premium on what you could do better, instead of on what good you’ve done.

An unhealthy restlessness is never the right context for decision-making. It deceives and blocks the proper view of reality that is essential to making the correct call. My discontentment became the emotional driving force behind leaving a position I treasured and worked hard for, people I loved and an impactful ministry for a role I didn't want, in a place I didn't want to be.

Pain Is An Effective Teacher

Pain is an inevitable part of life and the human condition that we naturally want to avoid. Yet, suffering helps us grow deeper and discover vital things about ourselves. If we are teachable, hard times can produce character and the qualities of endurance, faith, and resilience. These are all positive and vital outcomes gifted to us through pain.

In the Bible, suffering is seemingly always tied to spiritual growth and that is what Paul is saying to the Thessalonians. He wants them to understand that suffering is a normal part of the Christian life and that God sees them as worthy to endure it. God makes us worthy through the gospel to walk through trials and supplies the resilience we need to keep going.

The Sun Comes Back Up

So you made a bad decision. You made a poor choice that led to some heartache, discomfort,

LeadershipJason Autry