“Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard.” ― Barry Schwartz
During a recent catch-up session with one of my dearest friends, she shared with me that for quite some time now, she hasn’t been all too happy with her job and felt that it was time for her to start looking and pursue other opportunities.
In theory, since my friend is multi-talented and has a diverse set of interests, it should be fairly easy for her to figure out her next professional step and confidently move forward.
Yet in contrast, she felt “stuck”. The countless options and possibilities as to what she could do with her professional life had instead left her paralyzed in a prolonged state of inaction.
As I was listening to my friend’s story, I couldn’t help but recalled a time when I had found myself in a similar career predicament earlier in my 20s.
For those of us who were brought up in Western industrialized societies where the tenet of freedom of choice is so proudly upheld, we were told countless times over that “You can be whatever you want to be“, “The world is our oyster” and that “More is better…”
But here lies the paradox of choice: Having been presented with a multitude of options on a proverbial silver platter, figuring just what to focus our time, attention, and resources on can often result in a dilemma that debilitates us with anxiety.
Upon further reflections, I realized that the paradox of choice does not strictly apply to career-related matters but rather to all matters of life – even those that are seemingly trivial.
Read More: How to Decide Whether to Quit or Recommit
Case and point – I’m sure you can look back on times when you spent hours on end just trying to decide on which restaurant to go to for dinner and ended up having dinner at home because making a decision based on a long list of options was just too exhausting…
In situations where we are presented with so many options in front of us, it’s all too common where we find ourselves unable to make a choice, fearing that we will make the wrong one.
This “analysis paralysis” is especially heightened when it comes to life’s biggest personal decisions such as deciding on our career path, choosing our life partner, and so forth.
In his insightful and thought-provoking TED Talk “Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less“, a renowned Psychologist, Barry Schwartz, made a poignant case based on his research findings that having the freedom of choice often results in a higher level of dissatisfaction rather than a greater sense of freedom and happiness.
Why is that you ask? Schwartz explained that when we are presented with a wealth of options, we have a tendency of developing an escalated expectation of perfection.
In other words, we expect the choice we make to be flawless but since we all know that perfection doesn’t exist, with whatever choice we do decide to make, we are inevitably faced with regret and disappointment because they simply can not meet our incredibly high expectations.
Fortunately for us, Schwartz elaborated in his book of the same title, that we are not hopelessly doomed to paralysis and dissatisfaction whenever we find ourselves with a plethora of choices.
When faced with a variety of alternatives, one should base their important life decisions upon “focusing on what makes you happy, and do what gives meaning to your life.”
He further suggests that we can learn to overcome the fear of making decisions and prevent ourselves from experiencing disappointments by not placing such high expectations on the outcome once a decision has been made. Schwartz even comes as far as cheekily suggesting that “Happiness comes from having low expectations…”
Most importantly, in order to set ourselves free from regret or “buyer’s remorse“, we must learn to make peace with the consequences that come with the choices we’ve made instead of dwelling on whether or not the alternatives would’ve made better choices.
After all, it is life’s greatest paradox “We are always free to choose, but we are not free from the consequences of our choices.”
Barry Schwartz – TED Talk: “Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less”