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Fight or Flight? When The Universe Says “No”

Imagine this: You’re trying to secure that bank loan to start your dream business and everything is working out just right, until the very last minute when you learn of a hard requirement that disqualifies you from securing your loan. You’ve dreamed of this business since the age of 12. You were close. And, somehow, the universe has said, “no.”

When the universe says “no,” one of two things has happened. You are either being protected from a dangerous situation or being tested to see how committed you are to your goals. Do you run away from that business plan? How can you decide what to do?

Sitting through Than Merrill’s real estate investment conference recently, I learned of five questions his team uses to evaluate every potential real estate deal. I did not immediately recognize the applicability of these questions to everyday decisions. A few days after the conference, however, the utility of these questions dawned on me, and I have applied them to many decisions and dilemmas I have encountered. The five questions are:

  • “Is it legal?”
  • “Is it ethical?”
  • “Is it moral?”
  • “Is it logical?”
  • “What is the return on investment?”

As a medical student, I had to turn this into a mnemonic. It goes like this: “LEM-LR” for “LEt Me Lead you Right.” When the universe says “no,” you can decide whether to give up the fight or escalate your efforts by asking yourself these simple questions. How do these questions apply practically?

Is it legal?

The practicality of this question for non-business decisions is a little challenging to appreciate. However, it has applied itself easily for me; answering this question gives me a confidence boost about what I’m embarking on. When I answer “yes” to this question, I feel one step closer to making a decision. And, just like the effect of marking items off your to-do list, this step can be empowering in a subtle way.

Is it ethical?

Ethics can be summarized as an “external code of conduct.” It is influenced by the culture and norms of the environment in which you are operating. It takes the focus away from yourself and your feelings and transfers it to the people around you. Being ethical means you respect the values of the people around you — those of your family, friends, co-workers and community at large. If you somehow find that your decision is not ethically sound, consider ditching your efforts. Pursing goals that respect the values of the people around you will get you much further, with greater support and empowerment from your environment. Pursuing ethical goals creates synergy, harnessing the power in numbers.

Is it moral?

Initially, I thought, “Why mention ‘morals’ in addition to ‘ethics?’ Aren’t they the same thing?” Then, I decided to research potential differences. Morals can be summarized as an “internal code of conduct.” Operating in line with your internal code of conduct gives you peace of mind. It allows you to sleep at night. If making ethical decisions makes the people around us feel important and valued, taking moral decisions gives us self-respect, dignity and self-worth. It brings to memory the saying originally by Peter Marshall: “A man [or woman] who stands for nothing will fall for anything.” From my own experience, this question is the most pivotal. Out of the five questions, it most sways my confidence about the action I am contemplating. If I make a decision that aligns with my internal code of conduct, I never look back, and I will fight passionately for it — sometimes to my own detriment. But I feel completely satisfied at the end.

Is it logical?

Have you run the numbers on that business plan as diligently as you can? Can you sustain that business at your current income level? Have you researched your market enough? Talked to all the right people? Discussed with people who have the results you are aiming for? Or to people in successful relationships about what makes relationships work?  Is it logical to keep dating someone who has completely different long-term goals than you? Check your logic. If it is not logical, do not do it!

What is the return on investment?

What do you expect from experiences that result from this decision? Evaluate the short-term and long-term rewards from the decision. Do the long-term rewards offset the short-term losses? Even more crucial, can you sustain yourself during the period of short-term losses? Will you grow from this relationship? Or will you spiral into an insecure, cynical, angry animal? If you anticipate overall rewards, do it!

As medical students, one time we may encounter the universe saying “no” is during the residency match season. We may find ourselves at a crossroads if we do not match into that desired specialty. We must decide: Do I try again next year? Or, do I enter the Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program (SOAP) for a different specialty? You can easily apply these questions in this type of situation. Is it legal to want to go into neurosurgery? Is it ethical to want to go into neurosurgery? Is my internal motive for this career ethical? Am I logical to try to match into this specialty given the strength or weakness of my application? Does going into another specialty align with my internal value system? Am I a person that could be happy doing something else? Is taking a research year after failing to match a logical step to strengthen my application? Can I manage myself financially for a year knowing that my loan payments will be due six months post-graduation? If I enter another specialty through SOAP, do I give up “significant” return on investment (financial and non-financial) that would come with my original specialty choice? Or am I contemplating marginally different returns of investment?

When the universe says “no,” do not lose hope. Go through the process of asking these five questions and you should come out with a sense of direction, confident in your decision. This process will also save you time in decision-making and make it less daunting.

Ibukunoluwa Araoye Ibukunoluwa Araoye (4 Posts)

Contributing Writer

The Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science

Ibukunoluwa Araoye grew up in Lagos, Nigeria up till completion of high school. He attended the University of Evansville in South Indiana and graduated with a degree in Neuroscience, having a minor in Music Studies. His love for performance art continued after moving to Chicago for graduate school and later medical school as he completed half of the acting program at Second City Chicago. He considers himself to be an introspective and values new approaches to thinking of and discussing various topics.