“Open Doors” Is The Wrong Way To Make Decisions

A business owner told me he wanted to expand into a new market but hadn’t found an open door yet. I smiled and said, “Sometimes you’ve got to kick a door in to open it.” Looking for an open door is the wrong way to make a decision. 

It’s surprising to me how popular it is to make decisions based on “open doors.” As you explore opportunities, you look for open doors. If a door is closed, you continue looking until you find an open one.

I’ve heard this decision-making grid applied to job hunting, sales, moving to a new city, starting new ministry approaches, fundraising, and buying a house.

Where does open doors decision-making come from? There’s something in our Calvinistic roots that equates an open door to God’s guidance. Even non-religious folks speak of fate, or jokingly as “the stars being in alignment.”

Open Doors May Lead to Mediocrity

In my son’s senior year he received invitations from universities almost daily inviting him to attend their schools. The university he preferred, the one that best aligned with his career goals, was not a sure thing. If he chose a college based on open doors, he would settle for an education below his abilities and worse, one that wouldn’t lead to his career goal.

My son’s example is clear. But for some reason we become fuzzy when it comes to things like finding customers, a job, or financial donors. It’s the same for these decisions. Open doors may be the path to mediocrity.

Open doors may be good decisions, but they can also lead to:

  • The path everyone else is taking, causing you to blend in and lose distinctiveness.
  • Pre-packaged solutions that don’t fully meet your needs.
  • Paths that are easy now, but require more work down the road.
  • Tempting activities that distract you from your vision.

Open doors indicate what’s easy, not necessarily what’s better.

A Closed Door… So What Now?

Now that we’ve established that not all open doors are good. What about closed doors?

  1. Closed doors can mean a lot of things. Recently, I ran a social media marketing campaign and didn’t get the results I hoped for. It works for others, but didn’t for us. A closed door? Not so fast. Maybe it will work if we change the photo, adjust the ad demographics, or change the “call to action” button. We don’t know. Closed doors can mean a lot of things. It’s going to take some additional experimentation to find out.
  2. Closed doors can multiply the opportunities available to you. Opportunity is everywhere if you include all doors, not just those that are open. We need to see opportunities, not problems or challenges or closed doors. Every decision carries some risk. Don’t look for the risk-free option, it doesn’t exist.
  3. Closed doors can appear closed, but are actually open. I spoke with a pastor who told me about his church’s success in supporting unemployed people in his community to find work. A few days later, a pastor at a different church in the same city lamented that because of the economic crisis they must scale back the church’s activities in the community. It’s the same door, yet one leader sees it as open and the other as closed. Who is right? Henry Ford, said it well, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”
  4. Closed doors can hide the path to live out your calling. My wife, Lori, and I were convinced that we were to live in Indonesia. Getting a visa to stay there became difficult after 9/11. Some Americans left the country because of this. I became more determined. I obtained a student visa at a nearby University and later got a visa through a business I consulted at. Following your calling is not for the weak of heart. Behind firmly locked doors may be your calling. You may have to open that door forcefully, with your whole effort. To live out your calling sometimes you’ve got to kick that door down!

In the end, a door, open or closed, doesn’t tell us much. Sometimes the best pathway is the one that is effortless. The door is wide open. Just walk through it. And many closed doors are closed because they are bad ideas, or you are unqualified, or it’s the wrong approach.

The key to making good decisions is to get clear about your objective, and be flexible in how to reach it. By removing the distraction of open and closed doors you will notice more paths and can evaluate them based on a variety of factors rather than just one.

Question: How do you make difficult decisions? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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    5 thoughts on ““Open Doors” Is The Wrong Way To Make Decisions

    1. Thoughtful post, Keith.

      I suspect the life strategy of “open doors” finds it’s scriptural roots in the New Testament and particularly Paul’s missionary journeys. In Col 4:3, Paul asks the readers to pray for an “open door” for the Gospel and his journey seems, at times, to be guided by a “go where God seems to be opening doors.” However, I don’t think this is the only criteria Paul used and so I appreciate your challenging the modern day myth.

      It is tricky, though. When are we to “kick in the doors,” or “tear the roof off to find a way in to Jesus” (Mark 2:4) and when are we to “shake the dust off our feet” (Mark 6:11) and move on to other cities (e.g. options)?

      I guess this challenge is part of what brings us back to God and to Christian community for seeking wisdom.

      • Dave, yes, I believe the Bible is where that decision-making idiom came from. You mention some examples, there are others when Paul didn’t use the open door (Troas, and from the Philippian jail). And then there’s the “close door” to Rome that he refused to give up on. We need a more robust decision-making process than just “doors.”

    2. Yes, this is a very thought provoking post. Thank you for writing it.

      I agree with the comments Dave and you made. It is sometimes easy sometimes fall into the trap of equating resistance or road blocks as closed doors.

    3. “Closed doors can hide the path to live out your calling” reminded me of a Scott Adams quote: “Failure is where success likes to hide in plain sight.” We can pray that God gives us eyes to see in these situations.