I've got all the makings of a really happy person. Talent, health, looks, smarts, good family, good education, and the luck to be born into a democratic and affluent society where my opportunities are as vast and sparkling as the ocean on a summer day.
But I'm twenty-three and wandering lost. There are futures that I want, but I want none of them badly enough to propel myself toward them at full throttle. I'd like to get a real editing job; I'd like to become a proper writer writing for a proper reason; I'd like to have a successful outlet for my artistic urges; I'd like to move the hell out of my dad's house and get independent again; I'd like... well, that's enough for now. I ought to be able to do some of this stuff I want to do. Why am I not doing it? Why am I so stuck?
Barry Schwartz tells me the problem is that I have too many options to choose from. If you have twenty minutes spare, watch his TED talk below.
If you don't have twenty minutes, basically what he says is this:
- Our society is literally spoiled for choice. So many different career paths, super funds, sexual partners, salad dressings... it can be overwhelming or impossible to decide which one is right for us.
- Because we are always presented with so many different options, the onus is on us to choose the right thing. If things turn out badly, it's our own fault - and we feel like a massive failure if we've picked the dud.
- Even if our choice is okay-but-not-great, we still feel disappointed, because we know we might have done better, and there were so many other options that we should have done better.
- The luxury of choice gives us higher expectations, which in reality often fail to be met.
I meant to write a longer post, but you know what? This is a good amount to absorb today. The thing is, I'm being pulled in two directions by the subject matter.
On the one hand, I want to continue on the thread of expectations and how our optimism can sometimes let us down worst of all. Which is not to say that optimism is bad, but that sometimes when we find that something glitters but is not gold, in our disappointment we forget that glitter can be beautiful no matter what it's made of.
On the other hand, I am fascinated by this "paradox of choice". It disturbs me because I automatically make a connection to the pro-choice movement, which uses the value placed on choice as a flag of honour. I support the pro-choice movement. I believe that the decision to abort rests with the pregnant woman, and I detest the notion that she might be denied that choice. And yet - if choice is not as unequivocally valuable as we think it is - could a great part of the pro-choice argument be dismantled?
No need to answer those questions today. It's enough to have raised them - and have plans for tomorrow.