Thoughts & Observations

Anxiety & The Art of Picking

You’re standing in the lot at the car dealer getting ready to buy a car. Do you pick this one or that one?

You’re scanning Yelp looking for a place to grab dinner. Do you pick this place or that place?

Not earth-shattering decisions, but still opportunities to get something wrong.

And we don’t like to get things wrong. We don’t like to have the finger pointed at us when someone says “who decided to buy this lemon of a car?” or “who picked this awful place for dinner?”

And the anxiety around picking escalates as the depth and breadth of impact goes up.

Have I picked the right way to phrase this email I’m about to send to 30,000 people?

Have I picked the right presenters to put up on the stage in front of a discerning audience who will write about and talk about what they see?

And if I pick wrong, am I out? Are they going to stop trusting me to pick?

We fear picking because we fear being wrong and because it seems a bit out of our control.

And yet we all know people who seem to be very good at picking, like that friend who always seems to pick amazing restaurants or perfect gifts. Or the radio producer who always seems to find just the right story to feature.

But those people aren’t good at picking because they were born with a special gift.

It’s because they have a knack for paying attention – for noticing things – and for practicing picking.

When you pick something, you have the opportunity to learn from your choice, to notice what happens.

Did that presenter that I put on stage get laughs or no reaction at all? Did that email I just sent out resonate with someone and get positive feedback, or did no one respond?

Once you get in the habit of picking, you have the opportunity to recognize patterns that help you make better choices in the future.

What are the signs, for instance, that someone will make a great presenter or a bad one? I’ve noticed that the presenters who pitch themselves the hardest to get on stage are usually the ones that fall flat (maybe because they’ve gotten used to the hard sell required to sell their product because their product doesn’t sell itself?) It might not be an absolutely certain measure, but in my experience of picking month after month, it is almost always right.

If you want to pick a great gift for a friend, the easiest way is to notice things. Not only noticing how they might react to other gifts, but noticing when they say “ooohhh, I love that!” as you’re window shopping together or when they make mention of how they desperately need placemats.

Noticing consistently makes it immeasurably easier to pick well.

And as much as picking is a practiced art, even people who pick things for a living get it wrong every once in a while. There are TED talks that are duds. The ones that make it to are the best selections, fully edited to take out the technical missteps or the moment when the presenter forgot what slide she was on.

Even when you have gotten quite good at picking, there will still be anxiety.

If there was no anxiety, there would be no risk, and it is the presence of that risk that indicates that we are in the space of possibility to create something magical.

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