Angelina Jolie’s Choice: Being Decisive Amidst Uncertainty

Angelina Jolie’s Choice: Being Decisive Amidst Uncertainty

While the media has been abuzz about Angelina Jolie’s decision to have a preemptive double mastectomy, I believe there is a bigger lesson to be drawn from what is a very brave decision by a courageous woman. And it has nothing to do with breast cancer.

Whether you  have ever had to confront the anguish of breast cancer, or the possibility of developing it, throughout our lives we’re all faced with making decisions based on probabilities that can never be certain.   Ultimately, however, as much as we may try to avoid it, we must live with uncertainty and grapple with an array of probabilities and ambiguities in our relationships, our health, our careers and business, and in the daily choices we make that shape our lives.

In an increasingly complex world where we have access to more information than ever before, we crave a simple and easy to follow set of rules to simplify our decisions and remove the grey from our choices. At times we wish for things to be simpler, more black and white; for some ‘expert’ to tell us what to do, and when to do it in order to remove the anguish and ambiguity from our decisions.

But life’s decisions can never be reduced to statistical probabilities, six simple steps or a cardinal set of rules. And so, it takes courage to be decisive amidst the uncertainty, the ambiguity and the many risks we must weigh up as we navigate our lives.  Few decisions are cut and dry. Often we are forced to weigh up multiple factors, assess multiple probabilities, none of which we can ever be 100% sure about, and then somehow reach a decision that we can reconcile ourselves with, for better or worse.

While I’m not privy to the inner thoughts of Angelina Jolie, I can only imagine that she must have wrestled with her decision. A double mastectomy is no small operation. While it’s easy for me, who has never had cancer, to say that they are only breasts and relatively unimportant compared to a long full life and the joy of raising our children to witnessing them become parents themselves, there are real risks involved in any surgical procedure not to mention the impact on one’s family in the process.

Of course that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be thorough in researching our options.  Analysis is good. But we must be careful not to get stuck in it. I’ve seen people spend years in a tormented state of indecision – a sustained state of limbo – unsure of whether to make a break or take a leap. But indecision is still a decision, and like every decision, it has its costs which can grow steadily steeper as the clock ticks on. Sometimes we simply have to do what we feel is right for us even when we know it’s not the same choice others might make for themselves.

As I wrote in Stop Playing Safe, ultimately there is no decision that is 100% safe, without risk and free of consequence.  But in an increasingly complex world that is over-flowing with complicated statistical probabilities upon probabilities, being willing to make a simple decision is often far safer in the long run than choosing nothing for fear of making a mistake.