The Inability to Make Choices

For most of us, the first 25 years or so of life involve almost no important choices.  Rather, all the important choices (and many unimportant ones) are made by someone else on our behalf.  When you sleep and eat and study and what you learn and how and when you’re done and why are all prescribed for you.  Sometimes you get to pick one school from another, or a few classes instead of others almost identical, but for the most part, how you spend your time and energy and when and on what is laid out for you.  Your job is to ride the conveyor belt.

The problem is we all want meaningful lives.  Meaning must be created, and creativity requires choices.  Especially choices about what not to do, what to avoid, what to ignore, what to exclude.  These are the toughest choices for most people to make.  It terrifies many people.

After a few work trips where my son was unhappy with the book or trinket I brought back for him, I decided to ask him ahead of time what he wanted me to get.  He was a bit irritated and said he didn’t care, I should just pick.  He’s a bit of a natural pessimist and doesn’t mind feather-ruffling and cynicism.  I pressed and he insisted I just pick.  I did, and again he complained about it.  I asked why he didn’t just tell me ahead of time and he admitted that he didn’t want to choose something only to regret it, because if it was his choice he’d forgo his right to complain about it.

I think that approach is more common than we might assume.  If you’ve ever tried writing consistently you discover pretty quickly that the most difficult decisions are about what to leave out.  Take this post for instance.  There is so much more to be said on this topic, and so much more I believe than I can reasonably include in a single post.  I’ve got to exclude stuff.  Yet I know that every caveat or footnote I leave out allows room for readers to say I missed something or got it wrong.  When you create you’ve got to pick what’s most important and leave aside many other valuable things.  It’s vulnerable.  What if people blame you for leaving them out?  They will.  But if you attempt to include everything you’ll never create anything.

It’s amazing the number of people who have agreed with my reasons for why you should blog every day.  They agree it would make them better at achieving their goals.  I challenge them to try it for 30 days.  Almost no one does.  I’m not trying to shame anyone or claim superiority (I ignored the same challenge and tried and failed at it a few times before I really got going).  The reason it’s so hard is because every day sitting in front of that blank blog-editor you are faced with choices.  What to write about?  More accurately, what not to write about?  What if I write this and it’s misunderstood?  But to make it understood would be way too involved.  I’m overwhelmed.  I don’t have anything to say after all.  Maybe after I’m an expert.

The thing is, the more expertise you gain the harder it is to make these choices.  For every additional bit of knowledge you have it’s that much more you’ve got to leave out when you create.  There will never be a time when you’re ready or when it’s easy.  Just start.  The only way to overcome choice paralysis is to make choices.  Start with small easy ones to train yourself in the fine art of creativity by exclusion.

Most of us have a lot of bad habits and mindsets we need to unlearn in order to create meaningful lives.  First among them is the ability to make choices.  The best part is no one is paying attention as much as you think, so you don’t need to take the prospect of imperfection so seriously.  Just try it.  Anything that’s not wrong is right.