As I get older, my conversations steer toward “well, what’s next?”. This is inescapable with the people I am closest to. We discuss work, interests, and aspirations – then riff on what makes the most sense to do or how to make it happen. How to make the right move.
This is highlighted through my relationship with an old consulting buddy. Our careers have always been aligned, and therefore we share a heightened level of empathy and understanding. We talk about problems with work, about feeling professionally stagnant, and about the growing feeling that our careers have stopped preparing us for the next step. That nothing we are doing aligns with our identity.
After reflecting on this situation with the added clarity of writing it out, you’d think it would result in a decisive train of thought ending at what we should do. More commonly, it results in indecision and analysis paralysis. My friend and I must have these conversations every other day, almost refusing to appreciate how difficult and slow change is. And often we sit encumbered with too much doubt delaying action – expecting too much change too quickly making the goals impossible. I think the root of that doubt is fear. Fear of doing something wrong and not choosing the “right” option. Maybe even the fear of ending up worse than we have it now – a now which seems spiritually intolerable.
“If you think it through, you find you never could take enough data into consideration – the data in any given situation, is infinite”
Decision making paralysis creates a negative feedback loop. An issue is identified, then thought about, then discussed, then overanalyzed – infinite variants flood the mind with possibility and considerations – and then the status quo is chosen. In doing this we convince ourselves to decide another day. To make an even more thoughtful decision tomorrow. This is where action can rescue us. Suffering in stasis is not noble. It doesn’t help up us grow or change our reality. It can’t be better than choosing “wrong”, learning from it, and growing.
Discussions related to serious decision making, even when about the same exact topic, can have strikingly different tones and conclusions. Our moods can dictate the insights we gain. Chaotic forces may skew us toward more erratic ideas. Clarity and stillness will offer more balanced thinking grounded in reality.
Once you make a decision and start to act, you cannot look back. It’s good to pull lessons from the past, but intense doubt can cause good ideas to be abandoned prematurely, and bad ideas to be pursued out of fear. Focusing on regret and obsessing over being “right” has the complete opposite intended impact – it drives us to rapidly shift attention, and rarely results in coherent, compounded progress. And being right is only possible to know when looking back.
“You have to regard yourself as a cloud in the flesh. Because you see clouds never make mistakes. Did you ever see cloud that was misshapen? Did you see a badly designed wave? No, they always do the right thing”
You have to trust yourself. And you have to trust that dedication and consistency will compound over time. That in dedicating yourself to action, you’ll find clarity and meaning. If you’re not sure what to do, just start doing something. Being unhappy with present circumstances isn’t solved by sitting still. And the negative decision making feedback loop, without action, will only intensify the suffering.
Alan Watts imagery regarding clouds and water reassures me not burden myself with the past and to be more comfortable looking ahead. The most valuable conclusion I’ve drawn from is that if we like the person we are, or simply the trend our life is now taking, well every decision we made up to this point had to happen for us to be this exact person. Speculating endlessly about the future is nonsense, and criticizing yourself for the past is an easy trap to fall into that only wastes time.
You know what’s right for you, even if you don’t feel it. You know it better than anyone else can. Seek advice and input from those you trust, but nothing can replace taking time to think for yourself and then taking action. Even when you have no idea what you’re doing or where it will take you, and even though that feeling of uncertainty and being lost will always be waiting around the corner, you’ll feel better and be better for having chosen action. Once you’re doing whatever it may be, clarity will come simply in the form of learning more and having to make decisions about what you’re actively doing. It won’t come sitting idle thinking about what that first action could be.
See you tomorrow.
Inspirations: Decision making, Alan Watts
Quotes: Alan Watts