A dear friend recently quoted Robert Frost’s famous line to me.
“Two roads diverged in the wood..”
If only there were just two roads. (Yes, I understand and appreciate the beauty of the poetic metaphor. Don’t get sidetracked.)
Either/or is the easiest decision ever. Especially if you are a well seasoned decision maker with a high tolerance for being wrong.
What’s far harder in this crazy modern world is that there are generally a far greater number of choices when considering how to move forward. This applies to every decisions up to and including the largest life decisions.
The challenge is familiar to everyone and there are even studies that have investigated this problem. Just read Barry Schwartz in the best selling The Paradox of Choice if you need to learn more.
The other day I simply could not make a single decision to save my life. Go inside or outside? Eat in or go out? Take a shower today or tomorrow? Really, every decision felt like too much. I have embraced a truly minimalist lifestyle so my daily life choices are stripped down to essentials. Do I stream in bed or at the table? Coffee or tea? I only have one mug for each so I don’t even have to choose drink ware!
My decision engine had just shut itself off. Not a good thing when starting a business involves making more daily choices than anything else I’ve ever done.
Decision making is actually a strength for me. To have it just shut down is a new experience. It’s taken days of just resting and streaming some good Amazon and Netflix original series, to restart it. (I can make recommendations!)
I can now understand why I could never really imagine starting my own business before now. It took leaving my job and taking a year off to get back my ability to think creatively. But even a well rested brain gets overwhelmed by too many choices. To get anything done requires a willingness to identify fatigue before it knocks you out for days. Whether it is decision fatigue or creativity burnout, it can lead down the road to burnout or to a more debilitating depression.
Then I remind myself that I’ve already chosen the road less travelled. Now the decisions get harder.
I think Mr. Frost lacked ambition.
My Facebook feed overfloweth with “5 ways to be your best you”, and “happy people do these 8 things every day”. Enough already. You know you live in an overpriviledged society when so many people are desperate to be “happy”.
The modern conception of happy is a combination of buying things and then of stripping your life of all those things. You could become a blissful yogi or a doer of meaningful things. How about traveling the world on $27 a month to achieve enlightenment? And all of these things are accompanied by beautiful photos of colorfully lit nature scenes or energizing groups of laughing pretty people.
Yes, I know that I live in a small RV (mini house) roaming freely around the country. In the last five years I’ve been a vegan, I’ve divested myself of almost all my “things”. I’ve walked away from a stressful job. I’m like a poster child for this culture of “do this and achieve bliss” living.
Am I happy? Of course I am. I am healthy (okay, fat and happy). I live with the love of my life. My parents are healthy. My kids are grown and are really good people. I have medicine to keep my mental illness at bay. I am building a new business venture that engages my mind and my creativity.
I also worry about money, my kids, sudden illness. I hate crowds and traffic and stupid people. I hate social events, parties, sports and most other things that are popular. I’m incredibly bored some days. I’m terrified by the naked stupidity of our country’s government and what it says about us. I could go on and on.
Isn’t that the definition of being alive? Some happy, some worry, some love, some hate and mostly a great deal of confusion? Every part of life has its own kind of happy and it’s own kind of fear and tragedy. We are unimaginably lucky today and inconsolably lost tomorrow. Most days we are just distracted by the mundanity.
I guess I am done with trying to find the key to happiness or becoming meaningful. There are 8 billion of us on Planet Earth. The vast majority of us will come and go with about as much impact as a mosquito. I have always found that to be comforting. The pressure to be important or impactful or happy is absolutely meaningless. There may be 27 ways for me to be my best self, but I think that today I will just do the best I can even if that means I stream the entire final season of Downton Abbey while lying in bed. I can guarantee that will make me happy.