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More Choices; Less Clarity

Salesman: There are a million options, all you have to do is pick one!

Me: *chest tightens*

Imagine going to your local grocery store to buy disinfectant wipes. During the pandemic, it might be difficult to find them, never mind choosing among options. Pre-pandemic, how many choices were there? Did you know what you wanted when you went to the shelf? Odds are decent that you browsed the options, made a selection, and moved on within moments.

Using a popular online shopping service, I searched for “disinfecting wipes.”

Showing 1-48 of over 2,000 results

Over 2,000 results for disinfecting wipes.

We might know the price we’re willing to pay, the brand we’re willing to pay for, and how many we want. If we know this, we can use the provided filters to take that number down from 2,000 to a more manageable level. That filter is helpful. But what if we don’t know? What if we’ve never bought disinfectant wipes before? How can we make a decision among the 2,000 options and how do we know it’s the right one?

Adulting is hard.

Imagine a similar scenario except the product you’re buying is more expensive and is not disposable. Perhaps you’re selecting an academic major. Perhaps you’re buying into a company where you will go for no less than 40 hours a week, every week, for years. How do you pick an academic path? How do you pick a job (if you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to choose)?

There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. There are more than 32 million businesses in the U.S. All we have to do if we go to college is pick one. All we have to do for gainful employment is be a productive worker and pick a business, out of the 32 million options. It’s not that easy, at all, and the decision is only one complicating factor, but the one that is the focus for now.

How do we make a decision? Filtering. Are you willing to relocate to achieve this goal? If no, then the geographic radius became better defined if a commute is in your future. If you open up to remote engagement, then the school or employer has to offer that; so, one more filtering point. What's the next filter? Is it culture, community, fit, future possibilities, history of organization, where your friends or family have gone to school or work?

So many things.

If the idea of “countless possibilities” gives you stress, you’re not alone. If you’re afraid you’ll make a bad choice, again, you’re in good company. If you’re nervous that your choice won’t be the best one and you will have overlooked another viable option, once more, this is relatively common. But what to do?

  1. Ask for help. Ask someone to help you think it through. It’s best to ask someone who has your best interests at heart, but stands to gain nothing, not even bragging rights on their alma mater, as a result of your decision.

  2. Be honest with yourself. You might be able to imagine that if you get that job or get into the degree program, it will be exactly how you pictured. In reality, it won’t be perfect so do your best to predict where the struggles may be and plan ahead to be proactive.

  3. Embrace your decision. You made the best decision you could with the information you had at the time. Don’t waste time wondering what if, but forge ahead with your goal in mind.

  4. Reality bites. After the honeymoon at your new engagement, reality will show up to bite you. It is natural and predictable. How you respond is up to you. Do you take the hit and then stay down, or do you now accept the new reality and bring yourself back up? You get to decide and no amount of second-guessing or buyer’s remorse will change your situation.

  5. Leave no opportunity unexplored. Honeymoon stage euphoria is not sustainable, however, there still may be a lot of good to come! Take advantage of every opportunity you can to get the most out of your experience. This is not a recommendation to work 100 hours a week. It is a recommendation to not put your head down and grind. Keep your head up, look for options, look for engagements, look to get the most out of your experience.

Having copious choices sounds good, until you have to decide. So why struggle alone? At some point, your decision is yours to make and it will be yours to experience. But there’s no reason to go through the entire decision-making process on your own. When faced with a big decision, filter out the obvious non-options and then ask for help. You will get to a good decision. If you don’t like it later, engage the decision-making process again, and again, and again. Adulting is hard. But it doesn’t have to be lonely.

Source: The Paradox of Choice: Do More Options Really Tank Conversions?

Photo Credit: Photo by Amelie & Niklas Ohlrogge on Unsplash

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