I recently read “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” a fiction story written in 1984 by Franco-Czech author Milan Kundera. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to read it again, because it’s just one of those books in which the little details are so much richer the second time around. Kind of like when you help yourself to a second serving of pie. I couldn’t get this quote out of my head:
“There is no means of testing which decision is better, because there is no basis for comparison. We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold. And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself? … Human life occurs only once, and the reason we cannot determine which of our decisions are good and which bad is that in a given situation we can make only one decision; we are not granted a second, third, or fourth life in which to compare various decisions.”
I love me an opportunity to second-guess my decisions. It’s not lack of confidence that triggers this – it’s choice. Pure unadulterated choice.
We’ve got too much of it these days. Last week, I went on REI.com to buy a backpack. Nothing fancy, just a regular school backpack. Two, maybe three pockets. A compartment on the side for my water bottle. Blue or green, whatever they have. Easy.
Eh, not exactly. Did I want the REI brand or The North Face brand? Columbia or Patagonia? There’s a compartment for your computer one for your cell phone another for your pencils and there’s even a hip strap too so you don’t fall over when you’re carrying all of your stuff in your brand new backpack. I didn’t end up buying one because I couldn’t decide. I’m backpackless.
In fact, had I bought one, I would have probably had a case of buyer’s remorse, thinking I should have gone with the 12-compartment-green-North-Face as opposed to the bubblegum-pink-10-pocket-JanSport I actually bought (I had some middle school nostalgia).
I digress. What Kundera’s talking about here plagues many of us. How do we know we’re making the right decision? They key to this lies in following your intuition and using logic and reason. In addition to that, be sure to:
Weigh the possible outcomes. Avoid discussing this with people who always agree with you.
Understand the “why” behind your options.
Avoid adding disproportionate weight to the first information you receive in the process. Look at other options, even if the first one seems like the best thing to do.
All of us will make many choices in our life. They can be scary and tell me you know someone who’s never made a wrong choice and I’ll show you someone who’s probably lying. If you ultimately feel you didn’t make the right decision, it’s OK to reverse it. It shouldn’t be a cause for shame.
Instead, take it as a lesson learned.
A throwback to 2008, this RadioLab episode about choice. It’s informative… and entertaining.