Choosing One Thing To Change

The biggest problem I find myself facing is choice.

We are so used to living in a society over-whelmed by choice that when it comes to choosing & prioritising what to work on, what to focus your life on, we lack the practice.

Buying toilet roll, for example, is not just buying toilet roll. Which supermarket are you going to go to? How much do you need? Which brand are you getting? Why? How does that 20% off promotion influence you? Soft?

Even the most insignificant decisions become big decisions. Not in importance, but in how much of your time & mental energy it demands.

To compound this, most choices we face are pretty easy to reverse, or the consequences of the choice don’t matter so much.

Buy the wrong chewing gum? Not the end of the world. Even bought the wrong TV? You can just take it back.

When it comes to allocating your time based on a specific choice, such as deciding on a certain career path, it’s not so easy.

 

We are fear-driven

However confidence & in-control we may seem, we all share the same nagging thoughts. The same doubts. The same fears.

What if it doesn’t work out? What will people think? What will I think of myself? But what if I end up doing this all my life? What if I can’t switch careers in future? What if the industry falls apart?

All of these negative thoughts exacerbate our poor decision-making. They influence which decision we should make, making those decisions less rational & more in our short-term interest.

 

You can never recover lost time.

Time is finite. You also only have a limited amount of it to allocate.

Therefore any decision that will determine how you spend a lot of your time is an important decision. Important decisions are scary decisions, because we can never know whether a decision is right or wrong. We realise we are never in control of all of the facts, so have to make an educated guess with what information we have.

 

Decision Debt.

Every time you allocate time to something, it means you are not dedicating it to something else.

By deciding to be a product designer, for example, you are deciding to not be an engineer, or a lawyer.

Big decisions around your career lead you down a specific path. The initial choice may seem small & simple, but the path it leads you on will become ever-more divergent.

 

Lack of information.

Choices tend to be made with pretty limited information. You decide what to study at university whilst still at school. You decide on a career path whilst still at university. You determine the course of your life in your early 20’s.

Should you really spend the rest of your life following the goals you set in your 20’s, when you really had no clue about the world?

 

No easy answers.

I find myself aware of the psychology of fear & decision-making, aware of my scattered thought processes around tough choices I need to make. I’ve read countless books & articles on all of this, yet I still struggle.

Decision-making for me is like a muscle. The more I practice, the better I get. But I’m also aware I’ll never be that good at it. I’ll be influence by my fears, whether rational or irrational. I’ll be aware of the gravity of some decisions both in the short- and long-term. This will make each decision hard. It makes each decision scary.

Rather than offering advice on how to prioritise & execute effectively, however, I think the most effective step is to just realise – & never accept – decisions by default.

Never take the path laid out in front of you. Never stay in that relationship just because you’re already in it. Or that career path just because you’re already 2 years in. Don’t take that job just because someone offered it to you.

“Don’t fail by default.” — Richard Paul Evans

Little lies we tell ourselves

We set ourselves arbitrary goals. We make blanket statements that will determine the direction of the next few years of our life. We try to simplify & end up making no sense.

Before starting my last job, I clearly remember saying that I would join for two years. I was very specific on the 2 years.

Once I had made that mental decision, I moved on. Didn’t think about it again for a while.

2 months in, whilst having an open, honest conversation with a colleague about whether I enjoyed the work & what my plans for life were, I re-stated my commitment to 2 years at the company.

“But what do you mean? That’s just a number…”

 

And it struck me that I had just decided, on a whim, to dedicate commit myself to an arbitrary number.

That arbitrary number had been set to simplify a complex goal, a goal of gaining enough experience in product development, in a growing start-up to then start my own company.

So 2 years seemed reasonable.

But it’s a bit silly really. What does ‘2 years’ really mean? I could spend 10 years a in a dead-end job & learn the same amount – if not more – running my own start-up for 3 months.

But it’s pretty hard to quantify ‘experience’. When have you learnt ‘enough’? What type of experiences are you having? What are you learning? What are you not learning? So we set an arbitrary, more easily quantifiable figure on it, like a time period.

‘I’ll start that business once I’ve got 2 years experience. Once I’ve saved €10,000. Once I’ve been promoted.’

 

When starting a new business, it’s simply impossible to ever have enough experience. To be ready. To have everything under control.

What you are attempting to do is inherently risky, uncertain & unsolved. You start a new business to solve a problem there may not even be a solution for.

The only way to get experience for that is by doing it. Just starting it & seeing where it takes you.

 

Somewhere within me I knew that my 2-year goal was just a lie for these very reasons. ‘Experience’ & an arbitrary time period were just excuses to mask the fact that I was apprehensions, nervous, scared.

I refused to openly admit to myself that I needed to start taking steps towards working out what my new business would look like. Because without any idea of what you want to do, it’s hard to know where to start.

But you have to just accept that you’ll never feel ready. You’ll never be ready. You can make all the excuses you want, but, at the end of the day, you’ve got to just start.