Am I going to stay here or live somewhere else? Do I want to have children now or later? Do I buy a house or do I want to remain flexible? Do I stay in this job or am I going to look for something else? Is it better to focus on my career or do I focus on my family? Am I chasing a dream or am I ambitious enough to fulfill it? Do I paint the wall pink or yellow? Will I study law or medicine (or anything else)? Will I spend a year abroad or immediately start studying/working? Do I want beef or chicken on my burger?...
So many questions and they all have one thing in common. They require me to make a decision.
Decisions are very fickle things - and they increase in being so. On the one hand, we have more choices than we've ever had before, on the other hand, we've unlearned how to make a decision. How can that be and - even more crucially - are these two coincidences interrelated...?
Well, as with everything, the issue of decision-making has historical and cultural roots, I believe. Culturally, humans have evolved dramatically in the past century, including the ascension of teenage-hood, feminism, childcare, impact of technology and the resulting globalism which led to a merging and melting-potting (yes, I'm using it as a verb) of different cultures. Of course the convergence of various cultures has led to various difficulties, but also to great opportunities. Never before have we had so many possibilities and opportunities as we do now, and herein lies one part of the problem.
Do you know the Buridian's ass paradox of the donkey who, if put between two equidistant stacks of hay, would starve to death due to his inability to make a decision? It stems from the 14th century; however the concept of the paradox dates back much further, namely around 300 BC when Aristotle wrote "...a man, being just as hungry as thirsty, and placed in between food and drink, must necessarily remain where he is and starve to death."
OK, not a nice thought, but you get the gist, right? So, apparently, decision-making has never been the strong-suit of humans; however, I would believe that due to the vast range of possibilities available nowadays, the difficulty of making a decision has strongly increased.
I recently read in an article that people in the earlier days simply didn't have much choice in what to do, and I am not saying this is a good thing, on the contrary, but the vast opportunities have probably evolved so quickly that humans haven't adjusted. In the earlier days you were first of all divided by class - an insurmountable factor. If your father was a poor farmer, there was no such thing as contemplating to become a doctor or lawyer; however, if you were born into a rich family, becoming a maid or a chauffeur was our of question. Secondly, if you were a woman, well, you were screwed anyway and there were just two choices: Raise children and work your ass off on the fields or factories (if you were poor), or give birth to children, shove them off to a nanny and spend the days in blissful boredom, reading or, let's face it, simply looking appealing (if you were an aristocrat).
Nowadays, we are told we can be whoever we want to be and it has never been more true than today. When you finish with school (after the tedious decision which school to attend, of course), what to do next? University? College? Going abroad? Going abroad to go to university? Trying to find a job straightaway? (good luck at that)...or doing some sort of apprenticeship or training after all?
And let's pretend you have decided to attend university...What should you study? English, Psychology? Maths? Chemistry? Law? Something you like or something which will earn you more money?Something that will make you happy or your parents happy? Will you study here or abroad? Will you do only your bachelor's degree or a master's too? Will you need a doctorate?
So many questions and so little guidance to answer any of them. Only prejudiced "advice" from peers and parents and literally EVERYONE around you. I believe advice and guidance are important, as long as they are not obtrusive. The decision itself has to be made by you, but schools should offer guidance systems through the labyrinth of decisions, possibilities and opportunities. When I graduated from school, I had no clue what I COULD study at all with my interests and opted for English and American Studies instead of pursuing something like Marketing Management or Advertising, simply because I didn't know I would be able to do that as well with my interests.
Another reason for the incapability to make a decision is the responsibility that lies within. Generally, it seems people are really unwilling to take up even the slightest scrap of responsibility and I blame, as so often, our public school systems but if I now expand why, this is going to be an entire book, so I am going to forsake it for now and move on. Whenever you willingly make a decision, you automatically exclude another one: the moment I decide to study maths, I also decide to NOT study English, physics, psychology, law, etc... I often feel people have less problems with the decision they make than with the decision they make NOT to pursue and the fear of missing out because of this decision.
The problem is that in the end you often end up with a pseudo-half-decision which makes nobody happy, so how can this be circumvented?
Well, it isn't really easy, is it? And then, on the other hand, it is. I want to believe that deep within, we know what we want and believe, if only external factors like our peers and social environment as well as internal factors like the fear of failure, the fear of financial insecurity or the fear of choosing wrong wouldn't distract us from what really counts. I am not implying here that at the tender age of eighteen everyone knows exactly what they want to do and how they will end up, but nobody does, regardless their age. Still, if a human being can proceed fearlessly and within the parameters of his/her passions, I think most people wouldn't have a hard job making a decision at this point of time (because this is the next step, many people seemingly tend to think they will be stuck with their decision for life, which is profoundly mistaken, you can always change something or redirect your life in a different path). They could embrace with their talents and passions, and I know it sounds cheesy, but it is the unequivocal truth how to make a decision and not feel this immediate tinge in your stomach when farewelling (yes, I am also using the gerund now) another option. If the external world wasn't an issue, if parents wouldn't press their offspring to pursue economy, law or medicine merely for the sake of status, decision-making wouldn't be such a monumental problem in our society and I think the art of decision simply lies within your capabilities to not only embrace your true inner self, but to stop justifying yourself and your decisions to other parties. But always remember, it is a long process and despite having elaborated on it so eloquently here, I am far from mastering the art of decision myself in many ways...
Writer. Editor. Blogger. YouTuber. Freelancer. Traveller. English fanatic.