One thing New York is not short on is choices.
Having a plethora of choices is one of the main reasons why I wanted to move here: an abundance of choices means an abundance of possibilities.
But the main problem with having so many choices is that you eventually have to pick something. I could walk out of my apartment and eat breakfast at any one of dozen places within a couple of blocks, but I can’t eat breakfast at every place at once. There are three events I want to attend tomorrow night, all happening at the same time, but the laws of physics (and public transportation in New York) prevent me from being able to get to all three in one night.
The science of how we decide tells us that the more choices we are presented, the more stressed out we get, and I will admit that one of the only things that has been stressing me out just a little bit over the past two weeks is trying to decide what to do with my time.
I was thinking yesterday about a very successful friend who has his life goals clearly outlined from where he wants to be at the end of this year to where he wants to be five years from now. He was pushing me the last time we met up to make much faster choices about what I was going to be working on over the next few months and he wanted an answer on the spot, but I found coming back to him with anything concrete incredibly difficult.
There are lots of reasons for my hesitation: I just had the disruptive experiences of stepping away from a long-term job, long-term relationship, and long-term home almost concurrently. I had also been totally caught up in the insulated world of Girl Scouts and now feel like I’m a little kid, discovering the world for the first time.
But this morning I had a big realization: it is very easy for my friend to make fast choices because he already knows with extreme clarity what his goals are. When faced with the choice between meeting with one person or another, or spending time blogging or building a network on Twitter, he can make a decision in a split second because every day he is in the habit of testing his choices against how they align with his goals.
When you don’t have clarity around where you see yourself or what you want for your life in the future, it becomes infinitely more difficult to make choices.