There are many times in your life where you seem to be at a crossroads. You experience decision paralysis, because you realize that there will always be irreversible consequences.
They can be rather trivial decisions — deliberating on whether to have sushi or burgers for lunch.
But they can also be profound — choosing to live in another city vs. stay in your hometown.
While the weight of the decision is incomparable, the problem is always the same — you must choose one or the other.
While deliberating on the pros and cons of the two choices, we often forget that there is actually a third choice — to not choose at all.
For trivial decisions (where and what to eat) the consequence isn’t very important to you. You can’t decide so maybe you outsource the decision to the other person — your significant other, your coworkers, or your family.
But for bigger decisions, we hold off choosing because we fear the potentially life-altering ramifications.
We don’t realize that the longer we wait to weigh the advantages and disadvantages, the more anxious we will feel. Because humans cannot endure uncertainty for too long.
We are not creatures who like to be kept in the dark. We are descendants of ancestors who dared to go into the unknown, of the inner and outer world, and face the consequences head-on.
We need to know, but we know that in order to start the process of knowing the unknown, we must act. We’ve grown accustomed to the fact that we can philosophize and theorize in order to minimize our potential mistakes, but we forget that we are fallible and imperfect creatures who cannot predict the future, no matter how much we want that to be the case.
No matter how much time you spend fool proofing your future plans, life will find some way to surprise you. Life is ambiguous and indifferent in that sense — it either works in your favor or it doesn’t. It could care less how much you wanted something or how much planning you put into your dreams. It can raise you to the clouds or smash you into the deep sea.
No hard feelings. There’s no benevolent or malicious intent.
We can shout and cry about how “unfair” it is and how we “deserve” better, but the truth is — we’re not guaranteed anything in our lives. We shouldn’t start with the presupposition that we are “owed” something by life, and grow resentful when plans don’t go our way.
If you start with that axiom, you are probably doomed to be disappointed continuously throughout your life (or maybe if you’re lucky, the opposite may happen and you will believe in that axiom more. Who knows?)
Okay, maybe now you’re thinking the opposite of the spectrum. If everything you planned won’t go according to how you planned it out, then what’s the point of making any plans to begin with?
Why not just live life in the present, doing whatever makes us happy at the moment and not giving a damn about the future? As we’ve just admitted, the future is indifferent and perhaps there’s a lot more down than up. It’s also easier to abandon responsibility and give in to momentary pleasures.
If life doesn’t give a damn about us, then we shouldn’t give a damn about life! It seems that the only way to curb this existential suffering is to distract ourselves as much as possible until we die.
Reading this over, maybe you’re not very happy with this alternative path.
Perhaps you’re looking for a Middle Way, or a framework that encapsulates both perspectives and brings them into a productive union.
Perhaps a better framework in which to live our lives is one with a healthy balance of the two.
Maybe we can create plans carefully and reasonably toward our goals, knowing that Life may or may not provide smooth waters for our journey but placing our hopes on the benevolent side of Life.
Maybe we can also refrain from deliberating too much on life decisions and instead allow life to unfold itself. Rather than overthink and attempt to predict the future so you don’t get disappointed or hurt, maybe we can take leaps of faith and see what’s on the other side.
Maybe we can throw ourselves into the chaos sometimes, because to get out of the dark cave we must stumble in the dark and press forward.
While thinking “what decision is best” might be good, it should be done in moderation. And if you find that deliberation is producing anxiety and refraining you from taking action, perhaps you need to let go of your desire to predict the “best possible pathway with least pain/suffering”.
Because even if you deliberate for 10 years and try to predict the future, you will never know the outcomes until you make a decision to choose one.
And the worst possible decision might indeed be the decision not to choose.