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How I Got Over the Paralyzing Fear of Making Decisions

How I Got Over the Paralyzing Fear of Making Decisions

One of the biggest decisions I’ve ever made was “Am I going to marry this guy?”

“This guy” — also known as Carl Wilson, my husband of almost a decade—and I had started dating not long before I asked myself that question, but it only took a few weeks for both of us to realize we’d found something special.

Carl had also backpacked around the world for a year after college and had moved to north Georgia to work in the marketing department of the nonprofit that put the trip together. A few weeks after I came back from my own trip run by this nonprofit, I did the exact same thing — moved to north Georgia to work in the marketing department.

On a chilly October evening just a few weeks after I started my new job, Carl and I went on our first date. We started talking about marriage just six weeks later.

Carl was the funniest, smartest, most wonderful human I had ever met (still is!). We’d both done a significant amount of personal growth before meeting each other, we’d both dated a lot, and we got to spend a ton of time together right away—fast-tracking a connection that could have taken months if we were long-distance or had different schedules.

Not only did I want to marry Carl, I wanted to get married in general. I’d always wanted to get married. Marriage was never a “maybe” for me, it was a “Definitely. Yes, please. ASAP!” kind of thing. It took a lot of work and intentionality to keep myself from wasting my single life because I was so focused on marriage. But when I realized the marriage thing was actually happening, like right now, I got scared.

One day I was innocently filing away wedding ideas for a relationship I didn’t have, and the next I was deciding whether to spend the rest of my life with the person I was currently dating—and finding that the decision was much easier in theory. I know he’s amazing, but is he “the one”?

It was like in driver’s ed where you watch a few videos, do a simulation, and drive around some cones in your high school parking lot, and then, before you know it, you’re in a real-life car merging onto the highway. You’re like, “Wait a minute, what are we doing? I’m not licensed for this!” The fact that your instructor thinks you’re ready doesn’t give you any more confidence; it just makes you question their competence.

Half of me was head over heels in love. I was floating giddily around town like the main character at the end of a romantic comedy. But the other half of me was freaking out, fumbling for the exit. My fear grew and grew until I was in an all-out panic. I wasn’t just nervous. I didn’t just have cold feet. I was petrified that I was going to marry the wrong person and screw up my life.

I’d made big decisions before this moment — abandoning my newly minted journalism degree in favor of an unpaid job in college ministry, backpacking the world for a year doing humanitarian work (which is how I started the blog that ended up starting my career), moving from my home in Colorado to north Georgia (where I didn’t know a soul) to work for that humanitarian organization (which is how I first met Carl).

But deciding who to spend the rest of my life with — it was the most high-stakes decision I’d ever made. Honestly, it probably still is.

When I was trying to figure out if Carl was “the one,” everyone around me had thoughts. Tons of couples in our circle of friends were getting engaged around that time, and we fielded questions almost every day about when Carl was going to pop the question. Not only were we dating, getting to know each other, and talking about our future, but we were doing it in front of an audience.

And the audience had thoughts.

My best friend thought we were rushing things and encouraged us to give ourselves some time. (Wise advice. We did exactly that.) My parents asked thoughtful questions about how we were going to support ourselves (fair), but didn’t take a hard stance. In my extended family, it was normal to date and live with someone for years before ever talking about marriage, so we were way early for their timeline. My boss made sure to tell me his thoughts. (Thanks for that!) He didn’t think Carl was a good fit for me. (He was wrong.) Random married couples, upon hearing that we were dating and talking about marriage, would warn us seriously, “Marriage is hard.” (I was never sure what to do with that input.) As the cherry on top of this sundae of expert opinions, I found a podcast from a couple who had gotten married just a few months after meeting each other. We became friends, so I asked for their advice. They said, “We say, the earlier the better!” They ended up getting divorced just a few months later.

One day during this season, I was sitting with a friend, running through my pros and cons list for the thousandth time. I was trying to figure out if Carl was the one. Every important factor I could think of was ping-ponging through my mind — everything I knew about myself, everything I knew about Carl and our relationship, and all the advice I’d been given along the way. I was panicking. I felt like I was making the most permanent decision of my life so far, one that truly had the power to make or break my life, and I had no idea how to move forward.

I was about to dive into yet another round of “what ifs” when she stopped me. She put her hands on my shoulders, looked me straight in the eyes, and practically shook me as she said, “Stephanie, you get to decide.”

Those words changed my life.

That day, I learned that a beautiful life isn’t one-size-fits-all. This is my life, and it can (and should!) look the way I want it to look.

The same is true for you.

You get to ask and answer questions like, “What do I really want? What will bring me joy? What do I want my life to feel like on the inside — not just look like on the outside? What kind of future do I want to build, and who do I want to build it with?”

This is true with who you marry, what career path you pursue, if and when you decide to have children, how you choose to create a home . . . you get to decide.

No path is perfect. Every option has some good and some hard aspects, and it’s up to you what specific combination of good and hard you’re willing to live with.

Create a Life You LoveThe same was true of the question before me: Did I want to spend my life with the wonderful, imperfect person that is Carl Wilson? If there was no exact right answer, no perfect answer, if I got to decide, then I decided yes. And it was truly the best decision I’ve ever made.

But the power of my friend’s words stretched way beyond the decision of whether or not I wanted to marry Carl. Those words changed everything for me. They’ve become my mantra, the words I’ve whispered to myself at every turning point ever since. Carl and I say these words to each other all the time, and they help us approach our life—the big decisions and the little ones too—with a combination of creativity and authority that I’ve discovered leads to a truly authentic life. That day, with four simple words, my dear friend changed my life. Those words gave me a sense of permission that unlocked everything.

Friend, these words are true for you too. When it comes to the important decisions you’re facing today, or the big decisions you’ll be making next month or next year, you get to decide. You don’t have to forfeit things that are good and true about you in an attempt to squeeze yourself into a life you don’t actually want to live. Your life should be a beautiful reflection of the woman who chose it. This is your life. You get to decide.

Taken from Create a Life You Love by Stephanie May Wilson. Copyright © (April 2024) by Zondervan. Used by permission of Zondervan,

© 2023 RELEVANT Media Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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