A Foolproof System for Making Big Professional Decisions

How to stop agonizing over your career choices

Manoush Zomorodi
Forge
Published in
3 min readJul 29, 2021

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Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

As I get older, I get cheesier. Phrases I scoffed at as a Gen-X’er are now words I’ve come to live by.

Take the cliched term “core values.” Up until my forties, I equated those two words with hollow corporate mission statements recited by executives who, inevitably, put earnings above any list of morals allegedly guiding them. “Don’t be evil?” F-you.

But I think there’s something magical in listing your own personal “core values.” For me, it’s made professional strategizing a whole lot simpler. Rather than agonize over which projects to pursue and which to politely decline, I can refer to my Rules to Work By. The list, I find, functions as a kind of decision-making algorithm: I run an offer through the gauntlet of my five values and, if it pops out whole on the other side, I proceed without hesitation.

To get specific, I’ve decided that the work I do must meet these specifications:

One- put a new creative spin on journalism

Two — inform and inspire others

Three — make it possible to compensate my colleagues fairly

Four — be produced with partners who have similar ethics and goals

Five — support my and my family’s health

Sure, these are really broad ideas, but they’re a great starting point. For example, a couple summers ago, I got an offer to host a video series about the sharing economy. Filming would only take a week…and the pay was an entire year of my salary. Seriously tempting. That kind of money would mean less time hustling and more time with my kids and my writing. But there was one big problem: The client was a big tech company whose ethics I’d criticized in my reporting for years. Oddly, they didn’t seem to mind that dissonance. They felt that since this was a documentary-style, educational series, rather than an ad, my history of insulting them would only add credibility.

Dollar signs nudged me towards actually accepting this argument. But, the more I considered it, the more I realized that while this project obviously flew in the face of my fourth value (working with partners who have…

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Manoush Zomorodi
Forge
Writer for

Journalist, mom, Swiss-Persian New Yorker. Host of @NPR’s @TEDRadioHour + @ZigZagPod. Author of Bored+Brilliant. Media Entrepreneur-ish. ManoushZ.com/newsletter