A few weeks ago I was talking to my brother about my frustration with my seeming inability to make big choices. He’d sent me a chapter from the book Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. It’d come at just the right time as I was trying to make about 17 large-ish decisions. The point of the chapter he’d sent was that we humans get so caught up in choosing the right door, we often leave WAY too many doors open.
I’d thought about that a lot—and then, of course, decided to leave all my doors open. (Did I mention I’m bad at decisions?) But then my brother made an off hand comment that really struck me. He said, “You know, you don’t actually have enough information—and no one could possibly have enough information in this situation—to know what the right choice is.”
This might be the best thing anyone has ever said to me. Decision making is my greatest source of anxiety. And I don’t necessarily mean the big moment of making a choice even—I mean the constants. Should I still be in this job? Should I continue to spend time with this person? Should I remain living in this city? They play on repeat in my head.
But this thought—that I might not have all the information yet (or ever) to make the “right” decision—it was a game changer for me. A few weeks later, I watched philosopher Ruth Chang’s TED Talk on “How to make hard choices.” It reinforced this idea—and added to it. Her point is that with hard decisions, no choice is necessarily better or right. But that with hard choices comes immense opportunity to shape who we are—we ultimately have the chance to become the person we choose to be. “The lesson of hard choices: Reflect on what you can put your agency behind—on what you can be for,” she says. “And through hard choices become that person.”
I’d imagine to a lot of people this is obvious life stuff—make the best choice you can and then embrace it. But I don’t think I’m alone (since, you know, these books and talks are awfully popular). And I like that part too. We all struggle with indecision. Which—if Chang is correct (and I think she is)—means we all have the chance to become the people we want to be. I like that.
They're Not Zoologists
|Mom:||This morning there was a giant slug outside the back door.|
|Me:||Well, that's gross.|
|Mom:||It had legs.|
|Me:||Yeah, that doesn't sound like a slug.|
|Mom:||It was very strange. So I told your father he needed to get rid of it before he went to work. So I handed him a paper towel and he said "I'm not picking that thing up with a paper towel."|
|Me:||Seems fair. I wouldn't pick up a slug with legs with a paper towel.|
|Mom:||Turns out, it was a bat.|
On Sunday afternoon I flew home from a weekend with family on a lake in Alabama. It would take about 47 pages of blogging to explain all the reasons I felt crazy stressed by the time I boarded that flight, but I did. And all I wanted to do was sit in silence with my thoughts for the hour and fourteen minute flight.
Then a guy sat down next to me. “This isn’t my seat. I’m supposed to sit over there, but someone else is in my seat.” I nodded. I liked his voice. You know how you can hear kindness in someone’s voice? I think I’m probably a terrible judge of character in general. But I get voices.
He began talking almost immediately. “I’m a therapist so I ask a lot of questions. Just tell me if you want me to stop.” “I’m a journalist so I’ve been told I ask a lot of questions too. We should be good.” I’ve also been told I ask questions to deflect the subject from anything actually personal about me. But I figured I’d let the therapist figure that out on his own.
We talked for an hour and fourteen minutes. Sixteen if you count the deplaning. I literally poured out my worries and concerns as if this was a legitimate therapy session. It obviously wasn’t. We also talked about him. And as the plane was landing he was like “So you’re pretty shady.” I laughed, “I hope you don’t say that to your patients.”
Actually though, therapists should probably say stuff like that. I mean, it’s got to be tempting. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about stuff like fate and timing and random circumstances. I don’t exactly know where he fell in that spectrum, but I do know that I’m really glad someone took his seat.