On Priorities and the Paradox of Choice

When I received the title of “Analyst” at my job, I thought it was very fitting, considering I have a habit of over-analyzing my experiences and choices in this world. I’ve always been this way – obsessed over personal and professional growth and determined to make the right moves at the right times (or as my Grandma calls it, “restless”). In a generation that grew up hearing “you can do anything,” the paradox of choice has become overwhelming for many. These days, we have access to every song and TV show ever created at any moment we choose. At times, this can lead to a frustrating indecisiveness where we’re always wondering: “is there something better out there?” (don’t get me started on dating apps…) Where previous generations were limited in the possibilities of their media consumption to what they owned or what was on a linear feed, we no longer have any bounds. I believe there’s a parallel in our professional and personal lives due to the incredible degree of connection that we share on a daily basis. Where the possibilities of a career used to at least seem to have limits, guided by the corporate ladder – today, anything really does seem attainable thanks to our social feeds.

There was a time when high school reunions were a big deal – you’d see classmates that you hadn’t seen since graduation, learn about their accomplishments and achievements (and undoubtedly enjoy some schadenfreude from the failures). For most of your classmates, this would be the first time you’d heard of the amazing things that they had accomplished – some extraordinary feats which you may have never really conceived as possible for you or someone you knew. Depending on your situation, you may ponder your past choices for a few days afterwards, wondering if you made the right decisions and achieved everything you had dreamed of when you were in high school. Then you’d move on with your life.

In today’s connected world, we’re inundated daily with updates on great new jobs, lists of “Top ___ Under ___,” and people achieving things we never even considered as feasible. It’s not only our immediate “friends” whose achievements we see, but friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends. I want to be clear – this is not about being envious of others success – it’s about realizing what incredible things are possible with focus and hard work. I think this degree of visibility drives us to dream bigger, work harder, and make a bigger impact, as we are constantly seeing what others like us are doing and reevaluating our own goals and progress. While this is healthy to a degree, it certainly has the potential to overwhelm us or fill us with anxiousness. As a devout overanalyzer, I think it’s important to take another look at what’s important to us in life. Every once in awhile, we should pick our heads up from our work and ask ourselves what will mean the most when we look back on our lives. A few years ago, a palliative nurse who counseled dying patients in their last days recorded the most common regrets they had on their deathbed. They included:

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

I wish that I had let myself be happier.

No one’s biggest regret is failing to earn a certain amount of money or win a prestigious award? Clearly, humans have an innate inclination to care too much about what others think of them, prioritize their careers, and hide their feelings from one another. Perhaps it’s important to question the motivations behind our actions – are we making decisions for ourselves, or because we think it’s what others expect of us, and we’re afraid to deviate? At the heart of it, all of the regrets above can be traced back to some sort of fear.

My biggest fear (at the moment) is that I play it safe, only take actions that I’m comfortable with, and let fear guide my decisions. Thus far in my short life, my biggest regrets have always been tied to inaction due to fear – not telling someone how I feel about them for fear of rejection (see above); not giving an attempt at something difficult 100% effort, so I’d have an excuse (to myself) if I failed; not having the courage to strike up conversation with strangers. These memories bring me to a place of contemplation, pondering the question “what if I would have…?” On the other hand, I’ve found the times I’ve overcome fear to do something difficult have been the most rewarding. Moving to Los Angeles without knowing anyone or having a job has been the most rewarding decision I’ve made. My world perspective evolved drastically, I’ve met wonderful people who inspire me on a daily basis, and I’ve grown as an individual. The act of putting myself in an uncomfortable place forces me to learn quickly, work hard, and stretch my mind. I’ve come to believe that action always trumps (that word is ruined!) inaction – when you make a move, you either succeed or learn a lesson, which is a success in itself.

As I pondered my future recently, I realized that I’ve become extremely comfortable and have failed to challenge myself for some time. I’m thankful to work with smart, kind, fantastic people in a job I wouldn’t have dreamed of having 10 years ago – but this very gift has allowed me to stagnate. It’d be easy for me to continue along the same path, because generally it’s what people expect, and few questions are ever raised. But as the early American author Elbert Hubbard (who also coined the phrase “When life hands you lemons…”) once wrote “Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out alive” (or was that Ryan Reynold’s Van Wilder?) After considering the nearly boundless options that I have, I’ve chosen to follow the path that scares me the most – I’m leaving my job to travel for a few months.

It’s funny, I’m so incredibly excited for the opportunity to take this journey (as well as anxious and nervous), but I’ve found it difficult to tell people. For one thing, I’ve never enjoyed talking about myself, but there’s also a real fear over what people will think. To walk away from a cushy career seems crazy to some (and I’ll admit, I do feel some sense of guilt for being able to do so while so many people we share the world with don’t know where their next meal will come from). The most common reaction to my news has been “what will you do when you get back?!” The truth is, I don’t have an exact answer to that question. And that scares me – so I know I’m on the right path.

I realize how incredibly fortunate I am to be able to embark on this journey, especially with the support of so many friends and loved ones, and I’m thankful for the opportunity. If anyone has suggestions for places to see, people to meet, or things to do in Europe – I’d love to hear them! I don’t plan on putting too many updates on Facebook, so if you’d like to follow my ramblings, you can follow my instagram below and sign up for the newsletter for this blog. I’ll send out an email reminder to check out recent posts once a week at most, and you can always unsubscribe like any other spam mail. Welcome down the Raabit Hole!




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