When the "Freedom to Choose" Imprisons Us More Than It Frees Us
In the past, our ancestors were born with their lives already perfectly outlined—"they will continue the family business," "they will become the town's doctor," "they will marry…" The child grew up with little room for choice, destined to follow the path already defined. When one's desire clashed with external expectations, the rebellion was outward, and the external obstacle reaffirmed the cravings of one's desire.
Gone are the push and pull, the limited possibilities… we are in a cultural moment where options abound, possibilities are numerous, and paths diverge. While having others decide our lives can fill us with rage, not knowing which path to take and recognising that "we have total freedom of choice" and therefore greater responsibility… confronts us with immense existential anguish that overwhelms and paralyses us.
As if in a strategy game, we indefinitely evaluate our move but never reach "checkmate"—a decision made.
We are increasingly accessible to choose and increasingly prisoners of indecision and indefiniteness. We spy on alternatives, open doors, close them, and take three steps forward and two steps back because we realise the other option is better. As if in a strategy game, we indefinitely evaluate our move but never reach "checkmate"—a decision made and doubt left behind. Which would release a tremendous amount of energy to continue building our lives on solid foundations. The well-known saying, "jack of all trades, master of none," perfectly applies in these times. We are increasingly full yet emptier inside.
At the root of indefiniteness hides the "fantastic" idea that complete happiness will be found behind one of the many doors to be opened.
Not fully committing to an option and we ruminate continuously "yes or no" drains all our energies. Thus, by chasing the perfect, the complete, and the most advantageous, we might spend our lives thinking and analysing different options and scenarios.
At the root of indefiniteness hides the "fantastic" idea that behind one of the many doors to be opened will be found complete happiness, the total absence of dissatisfaction, and a favourable wind to fulfil all desires. This is a magical thinking characteristic of a mind that needs to mature and a consciousness that needs to evolve. A life of satisfaction more closely resembles "how" we cultivate the seeds of the fruits we wish to harvest rather than scattering hundreds of seeds for more and more developing shoots that never fully bear fruit.
In the paradox of choice, more is not always better. The truth is, our brain cannot manage too many variables at once… we end up having a lot of a little and nothing of what's truly important.
And when that certainty invades us, the enormous void cannot be filled with thousands of equally good opportunities but with the tranquillity and serenity of a mind that can make decisions based on "values" and not on speculations seeking only benefits or advantages.
Just as a canvas holds the potential to be hundreds of paintings, it can end up being nothing more than a blank canvas if we do not give firm strokes and fully engage so that inspiration becomes fact.
Satisfaction depends on the committed attitude we take on life, the dedication and effort with which we nurture the seeds we value, and the patience to wait for our efforts to yield results. And if the results are not as expected, we will not be left wondering what could have been if we had given our best.
These words apply to choosing a career, practising a profession, maintaining a relationship, a family, or any project we undertake. Being half-hearted, doubting, sitting on several chairs at once is the most exhausting, wearing, and least intelligent position we can maintain.
How Can We Avoid Falling into the Spiral of Indecisiveness?
There are specific criteria we should consider when choosing one path over another:
Understand that deciding on something always involves "mourning" what is left out of that choice:
This recognition is possible when we mature and are capable of tolerating frustration. Giving something up allows us to "re-announce" to restate the same thing from a different perspective, now focusing all our energy in one direction.
Accept that "what is good, is good enough":
It's not necessary for something to be perfect to be enjoyable. Moreover, chasing perfection is longing for the impossible; nothing "complete" is free of shortcomings or defects. The "best" is the enemy of the good. Evaluating every single alternative can become exhausting and frustrating, so it's better to choose a good option than always think about a better one. This will make our lives simpler and more fulfilling.
Do not spend time comparing ourselves:
Sometimes, we see what others have and want that, too. However, we need to catch the whole picture. Indeed, whoever has what they have or does what they do has had first to give up many other possible alternatives, like all mortals. Not all that glitters is gold, nor does everything on social media reflect complete realities. Do not be dazzled or deceived.
More options, less satisfaction:
When there are so many options, we are more likely to imagine the attractive features of the alternatives we have discarded when making a decision, making it more likely to feel less satisfied with the chosen option. It is no coincidence that in recent years, the level of anxiety and depression has risen so much. We tend to focus on what we need and our expectations for what is to come, but we need to work on the skill of gratitude, nurturing, and growing what we do have, which can be a great source of gratification and fulfilment.
If you feel you have chosen poorly, if you constantly think you would have been happier choosing another possibility, distrust your "erratic mind" that tends to idealise what is not there and underestimate what exists and invest your energy in committing to your present, which will be the tomorrow of what you have nurtured today with dedication and affection.