8 powerful questions to ask yourself when you arrive at a crossroads in life

There are many different times in life when we can find ourselves at a crossroads, and feel unsure which way to turn. And each time we might ask ourselves: why do these decisions never seem to get any easier?

Ultimately, every decision we’re faced with is unique, and can affect us differently based on what our lives are like at the time. So, it can be difficult to take a leap of faith without knowing exactly how everything is going to pan out. However, if you’ve found yourself at a crossroads, and you’re wondering which path to take, then the good news is that there are certain things you can do to help maintain, or gain, some perspective.

Making big decisions can be daunting; and you might feel overwhelmed by your choices, worry about taking the wrong path, or perhaps even feel as though you can’t win; whatever choice you make. But, it’s important to remember that there are no right or wrong answers, and that any well-intentioned path you choose has the potential to lead you to brighter places, and open doors that you perhaps never imagined existed.

With that said, here are 8 powerful questions to ask yourself when you arrive at a crossroads in life.

1. What really matters to me?

The first thing to ask yourself when you find yourself standing at a crossroads is: what really matters to you? What are your core values and beliefs? What are you most passionate about? And what are your top priorities in life?

Ideally, the path you choose will be the one that aligns most closely with these core values, beliefs, passions and priorities, so that you can make a decision that allows you to stay as true to yourself as possible.

Sometimes this might mean sacrificing a toxic relationship that’s making you unhappy, or taking steps to move towards a job opportunity that’s more fulfilling than the role that you’re currently in – even if this means compromising on some factors that are less important to you; such as the location of the job, or how much it pays.

In a battle of head and heart, being true to ourselves often involves the use of both. It can mean listening to your heart, and then using your head to work out which steps you need to take in order to follow that path. Being true to ourselves is important, and shouldn’t be overlooked, because it’s linked to our self-esteem, self-worth, and happiness. If you’re not sure where to start, then you might find some useful pointers in our article 10 practices for self-exploration.

2. Does that path challenge me to grow?

Sometimes it can feel easier to choose the path that has the least complications, or that feels the least scary. But sometimes, it’s the path that feels most daunting, and that really pushes us outside of our comfort zone, that gives us the greatest opportunity to grow and develop.

Consider whether the path you’re leaning towards will challenge you to grow; or whether it’s simply a safe option because it’s more straightforward, or makes for a smoother transition from where you currently are.

There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing a path, but often the best things happen when we’re prepared to venture outside of situations that are easy or familiar to us. As American author and professor John A. Shedd once said…

“A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”

John A. Shedd

3. What advice would I give to someone else who was in my shoes?

Often, one of the most effective ways to take a step back from the situation, and gain some perspective, is to consider what advice you would give to a friend or family member who was facing a similar decision.

Many of us are much better at giving advice than taking it. So looking at the situation from an outsider’s point of view, can help you to weigh up the pros and cons of each scenario objectively, and explore your options with a clearer head.

Considering what we would advise a loved one to do, also allows us to be kinder to ourselves – as most times, we want the best for our friends and family, and will give them advice in line with this. For instance, we might encourage them to make a career change if we know it’s something they really want, even if they’re worried about the reactions of others. Or if they’ve always wanted to take up a new hobby, but have always avoided it due to a lack of confidence, then we might advise them to start believing in themself and go for it.

When we find ourselves in a crossroads situation, we can often benefit from being our own best friend. Sometimes we already know what to do, we just have to take a step back to be able to see things more clearly.

4. What is my gut instinct telling me?

While there are many different factors to consider when we’re making an important decision, our gut instinct can be a powerful informant and indicator. Gut instinct is built on intuition and past experiences, and some researchers also suggest that it could be “the highest form of intelligence”.

Our gut instinct typically refers to the very first thoughts and feelings that you have when you picture or enter a scenario. So, when you find yourself at a crossroads in life, do you feel excited by the prospect of taking a certain path, even if that excitement is tinged with nerves? Or does a path instantly fill you with dread and negativity? Many times, we can feel both physically and emotionally whether a choice is one we want, or perhaps need, to take. If we pay attention to this feeling, we can then explore it, by using logic to guide us while we determine whether this is a reasonable decision to make or not.

It’s not uncommon for us to ignore how we really feel about something, and talk ourselves into doing what we ‘think’ we should do instead. While every scenario is unique – and it can sometimes be necessary to do things we don’t want to do – ignoring our gut too often, or when it matters most, can lead to feelings of unrest, and even unhappiness. The more we trust our instincts, the more positive our relationship with ourselves will also become.

“We must be unafraid to be utterly honest, to honour our gut feelings, and to say and do the unpopular when necessary. We have to give up our addiction to other people's opinions and surrender to the freedom of acting with strength and courage.”

Suzanne Falter-Barns

5. Am I worrying too much about what other people think?

We’ve all been guilty at one time or another of letting other people’s opinions cloud our minds when we’re trying to make a decision – and this might be especially if you’re someone who is used to pleasing others.

However, the reality is that we only get one life, and that life is yours to live in the way that you choose. Other people can offer advice, support or opinions; but this doesn’t mean that you have to make your final decision based on this. Nor does it make you wrong if you don’t feel the same way about a decision as someone else.

For example, you might be worried about leaving a partner, because of what mutual friends or your children or grandchildren might think or feel. Or, you might be wanting to make a move abroad; but know that this would upset the people you’d be leaving behind. In these situations it’s important to ask yourself whether you’re really allowing the choice to be yours, or whether it belongs to those around you. If you decided to stay in an unhealthy relationship, or to stay put rather than move abroad; would you truly be content? Or would you be settling for a life that doesn’t fulfil you, to avoid disappointing others?

The truth is that anyone who loves and cares about you will want the best for you, and won’t try to get in the way of your happiness. As long as whatever decision you make is well-intentioned, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t hold your head high, and follow the path that feels right for you.

“Don’t let others box you into their idea of what they think you should be. A confined identity is a miserable way to exist. Be you and live free. Trust that in living true to yourself, you will attract people that support and love you, just as you are.”

Jaeda deWalt

6. What other areas of my life might be affected by this change?

Before making an important decision, it can be helpful to consider it from all angles; including looking at which other areas of your life might be affected by your decision. This can mean taking a closer look at how a choice will affect your living situation, your finances, your daily routine; your job, or your relationships with others. Only you will know exactly how each path might affect each area of your life, and whether this or sway you towards or away from it.

However, if you find yourself quite excited by the idea of taking a path that you believe will generally make you really happy, even though there are some practical considerations that might work against you – then, before dismissing that path altogether, it’s a good idea to sit down and carefully consider whether there are any ways you can work around or through these obstacles.

Sometimes it’s the paths that are bumpiest, or most winding, that are the ones most fighting for, and that have the biggest reward at the end.

7. Is this decision truly significant?

It’s easy for decisions; even small ones; to sometimes get blown out of proportion, and to feel like they carry much more weight than they really do. To work out whether this is true for your current circumstances, it’s worth asking yourself where this decision really falls in your list of priorities. Does it have significant links to your happiness or your health? Or does it affect not only you, but someone you care deeply about? Would the decision you make really change things that much, or bear much significance in the grand scheme of things at all?

In some cases, the answers to these questions will undoubtedly be yes. But in other cases we might realise that we’re spending too much time fretting over something that doesn’t actually matter that much.

The mind is a powerful thing, and if we overthink or dwell on any decision for long enough, it’s easy to convince ourselves that we’re carrying the whole weight of the world on our shoulders. This can cause decision-making to feel stressful and to become something that we want to avoid, when, by learning to take a couple of steps back and look at things objectively, it can actually be very positive.

8. What could go right?

Often what delays the decision making process, or stops us from choosing the path in life that we really want to follow, is fear. When we’re weighing up several different options, it’s not uncommon to always imagine the worst case scenario first; and to go for the option where the least amount of things could go wrong.

However, while it’s still important to make sure that we are being logical and realistic about a decision, if we spend more time thinking about everything that could go right, then the final outcome could be very different. If we always catastrophise situations and plan for the worst, then we could actually help to create some of the outcomes we fear without meaning to.

For example, if you’re thinking about going for a promotion at work, but are hung up on the assumption that there’s almost no point in applying because one of your colleagues will get the job instead; then this attitude might shine through in your behaviour. You might find yourself putting together your application half-heartedly, or being hostile around colleagues who are also going for the same role – which could in the end, be the reason that you don’t get the job; even if you stood a strong chance before.

Instead of spending time dwelling on everything that could go wrong, try to visualise yourself taking a particular path and succeeding. Visualisation is a tool used by many Olympians to help them excel in their sport, and research has shown  that people who visualise themselves performing a task successfully can actually improve their performance in that task.

So, if you picture yourself going for the job and getting it, you’ll be more likely to put all your effort into your application, and to worry more about what you are doing, and less about what your colleagues are doing. This behaviour could increase your chances of landing the role – and even if you don’t get the job, it can still boost your self-esteem to know that you tried your best. With an optimistic outlook, you’ll hopefully be able to learn from the situation, and use your learnings to pursue new opportunities.

If you’d be interested in learning more about how to adopt a more positive outlook, and find the good in every situation; then have a read of our article; How to learn the skill of optimism. You might also want to check out the book, Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers for tips on how to turn fear and indecision into confidence.

“Almost every successful person begins with two beliefs: the future can be better than the present, and I have the power to make it so.”

David Brooks

Final thoughts…

Get support from people who will tell you the truth

While any final decisions about which path you take in life are down to you, sometimes it can help to talk through your options with someone you trust; and who has your best interests at heart. As previously mentioned, it’s important not to let pressing opinions or guilt stop you from making the decision that is best for you. But sometimes a family member or friend can point out things about a situation that you might not have thought of, or can offer you some perspective if you’ve spent ages going round in circles.

Just be sure to make sure that any advice that you follow from someone else aligns with how you really feel deep down, and allows you to stay true to who you are.

Know whichever path you choose, you will be okay

When you’re trying to decide which way to turn, it’s easy to feel confused and worry about choosing the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ path. But the reality is that nothing in life is certain, and that while one path might have a different outcome from the other – whichever path you choose, you will be okay.

If the path you choose has a positive outcome then great, and if things don’t go so well, then chances are, all is not lost. Small positives and new opportunities can arise from even the worst of situations.

If things don’t go to plan, then this can also be a good opportunity to learn from what went wrong, and to grow and develop further as a person. As humans, we’re resilient beings, with an incredible ability to bounce back from adversity. To find out more about resilience and our ability to adapt; you might want to check out our article here.

Remember that sometimes change is necessary

Many of us find change difficult because it can initially make us feel unsettled and anxious; but change is often a necessary part of life. It’s easy to get stuck in a routine that doesn’t make us happy; but to continue with it anyway because it’s comfortable and familiar.

When trying to decide what move to make next in life, it can be tempting to stick with what we know in order to avoid nervous butterflies and upheaval. But if we do this, we will often find very few opportunities to continue learning and growing, which is when life can become boring, and as some might say; stagnant. Sometimes change is needed to shake things up a bit, and to make sure that we’re continuing to really live, rather than coast along.

We can get used to everything in life, including being unhappy. But, we shouldn’t have to, and often we only need to take those first few steps outside of our comfort zone to realise what we’ve been missing…

Don't get too comfortable with who you are at any given time - you may miss the opportunity to become who you want to be.

Jon Bon Jovi

Have you found yourself a crossroads recently? How did you decide which path to take? We’d love to hear about your experiences. Join the conversation on the community forum, or leave a comment below.

Find a career coach and unlock your potential

Working with a career or life coach can help to give you a fresh perspective and impetus when thinking about making a change in your life. A coach can help to work through what you want from life and support you in plotting a path forward to setting and achieving your goals.

We’ve partnered with a select number of coaches, covering a range of disciplines, and for all budgets. Take a look to see if you can find the perfect coach for you…

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