How To Overcome the Paradox of Choice
Photo courtesy of 'Pete'.

How To Overcome the Paradox of Choice

Written by Emilie

Topics: Productivity

Do you ever look out at all of the cool things you could do– all of the exciting possibilities and projects, and yet, are unable to act? Perhaps they all seem pointless since you know you will lose interest eventually.

For a community with so many different passions and fascinations, we seem to feel stuck a great deal of the time.

It’s the paradox of choice: the more choices you have, the harder it is to choose anything. The fact that there are so many things we could do means that multipotentialites suffer from the paradox of choice more than the average person.

There are two things I’ve learned that have helped me move past paralysis and take action:

1. Making a choice doesn’t mean that you are making a lifelong commitment. And choosing one path doesn’t preclude you from pursuing all of your other passions either simultaneously or in the future.

2. Changing directions later on doesn’t equal failure and it doesn’t render the energy and hard work you’ve put in pointless. You will pick up knowledge, skills and experience that will be transferable across disciplines. Pursuing different paths allows us to grow and learn and experience more of life.

When you’re feeling stuck in this way, get out a pen and paper and make a list of all of the things you would like to pursue. Then start the one that pulls hardest at your heartstrings. Or start with the one that is the easiest to start. Or honestly, pick one at random. Write down 1-3 small action steps that you could take this week to get started.

It doesn’t much matter which you choose, so don’t delude yourself into thinking that it does. You just need to get started on SOMETHING. Taking action, even incorrect or un-researched action, even minuscule action, makes it easier to take more action. Movement is what you need at this point. You can course-correct later.

We like to think that we can plan out everything in advance and prevent pain and disappointment. We can’t. We learn from doing. As far as I’m concerned, the only true mistake a multipotentialite can make is never pursuing any of their ‘potentials.’ In other words, the only wrong choice is making no choice at all.

Your Turn

Have you ever felt stuck due to all of the things you could choose? How did you deal with this?

em_authorbioEmilie Wapnick is the Founder and Creative Director at Puttylike, where she helps multipotentialites integrate ALL of their interests into their lives. Unable to settle on one path herself, Emilie studied music, art, film production and law, graduating from the Law Faculty at McGill University. She is an occasional rock star, a paleo-friendly eater and a wannabe scientist. Learn more about Emilie here.

18 Comments

  1. Cristal says:

    Hi Emily!

    I actually thought your latest e-mail was pretty timely for me lol…I just went back to school at 41–I spent my younger years raising my family, but it’s mainly because I couldn’t decide what I wanted to be when I “grew up” :) I have always felt a little stuck due to the myriad of choices in the world and all of them seem so great…but I’m so excited to be starting my next adventure–this definitely isn’t the last one, either!

    LOVE reading your e-mails/blog posts :)
    xoxo Cristal

  2. Rachel says:

    I feel stuck all the time! But one thing i like to remind myself is that in pursuing a project and taking it far, I’m often hitting on multiple passions. You actually create MORE opportunities if you stick with something for awhile. Here’s a long-term example: when I think maybe I should get a masters in college counseling instead of pursuing a PhD in history (because I like helping people with career decisions), I remind myself that professors often act as advisors to students, whether in an official or unofficial capacity (not to mention researchers, writers, speakers, teachers, translators, reviewers and consultants!). So I can still do both! Or when I think I should stop doing my lifestyle blog and go back to book marketing because I like working one-on-one with clients, I remind myself that if I keep building my lifestyle blog, I can add a service onto it that involves working with clients.

    I think the key is to not fall into the either/or trap: if I’m doing this I can’t be doing that. The reality is that there’s a lot of overlap in this world, and if you keep pushing forward, you’ll get to that point. I’m picturing a bunch of little lines that all converge in the center, or a strand of hair with major split ends. The further you go down almost any path, the more opportunities you’ll have!

    • Emilie says:

      Very true! That’s a great way to look at it. Most careers are/can be far more interdisciplinary than we assume. It sometimes just requires you to be a bit more creative.

  3. Lauren says:

    We have a guy called Martin Lewis in the UK, famous for the website Money Saving Expert. He wrote an article recently of the 10 things he wished his 18 year old self knew, and the last one really struck a chord with me: “Embrace uncertainty. If you make a decision and the outcome ends up being wrong, it doesn’t mean you made the wrong decision. You made the best decision you could based on the information you had at the time – and at least you made a decision.” This post reminded me of that a lot. I regularly feel overwhelmed by all the options open to me and all the things I want to do, but this is great advice for snapping yourself out of the lull, thanks Emilie!

  4. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for this. I recently started on something that isn’t going awesome (yet) and been wondering if I made a bad choice. You’ve reminded me that even if it doesn’t work out, I’m learning things that can be useful in the long run.

  5. Christina says:

    Hey! :D

    I overcame this by googling things on what if I want more than one career or to not be stuck in one forever at least? I managed to somehow find this site! It intrigued me. I felt that every word was me!! And being 19, I had ah ready decided not to go to college at first for fear of committing to a career.. but I don’t really regret the decision. I feel there are numerous ways to be your own boss! I was struggling though with showing the world I have a plan, even if it’s not traditional… I think a good way to overcome indecision to decide you’re going to do IT (whatever that it is for you) regardless of know-how, how often, or what others will think… My thing is I wanted to be financially successful w/o a college degree, be self educated, my own boss… Keep sight of your dream and motivate yourself! Stay away from negativity and read things to help increase your faith. whether you believe in a God or not, we are all blessed with skills and take ya that are meant to be used, explored, and fulfilled! So go do Something! Later on, you might realize it had more significance than you thought it could :) hope that helps, God bless!

    • Emilie says:

      Welcome, Christina! It’s nice to meet you, and thanks for the comment.

      It sounds like you’ve made the absolute right decision for you. And that is an admiral goal (and great plan to get you there)!

  6. This is great, Emilie! I struggled with this for the longest time – thinking that every time I choose not to continue with something I’m failing.

    Looking at it that way means you’re holding yourself back from fully learning from the experience and moving on. The truth is, every “failure” is actually another step to success.

    I created a whole system to help myself learn from these failures as quickly and efficiently as possible and use them to fuel my success that I now share on my blog, because I saw so many other creative grasshoppers (or, as you call them, multipotentialites) struggle with this as well.

    It makes me wonder how much we could really do if we just put aside the worries about our work and just worked, and accepted the changes along the way. We have so much potential!

  7. Emilie says:

    Thanks Laura!

    It also helps to have people in your life who remind you that your failures aren’t failures. My mastermind is always saying things like, “don’t worry about it, it was an experiment.” Good attitude to have.

  8. Nicole says:

    It’s so timely for me to read this post today!!!! I just bought a big roll of paper so I can finally start to brainstorm all the ideas in my head, and get started!

    I’ve been feeling stuck since high school. I loved so many subjects at school, then again in my first year at university. I couldn’t chose and ended up taking a range of seemingly unrelated subjects – I felt overwhelmed and then just gave up. I quit uni and have always thought about what “I could’ve done” if I’d stayed. It seemed too unusual and not the right thing to do to follow all my interests in an academic or professional way so I just stopped.

    I kept up a lot of my other interests – and added more along the way of course! – but it’s only since I discovered Puttylike that I feel I could use them in a business way.

    I’m excited to start on this new path, or what I’m sure will be many new paths, and buying the roll of paper is my first action step. My new mantra is “There is no perfect path.”

    Thank you Emilie for once again delivering some golden words at the right moment!

  9. Jon says:

    Such a timely post, Emilie, but it’s quite hard, too, to do something, for fear it’s going end up fickle, not a “proper thing”. I guess I’m still working thru years of specialist bullying and can’t shake the feeling that, no matter how many choices/ideas come up, they’re not going to feel serious enough like “a proper career”. It’s not fear of failure. It’s fear of fickle. Does this make sense?

  10. Abbie says:

    Thanks for writing this – those were two things I really needed to hear. Now to start my list ;)

  11. Stijn says:

    Funny that you would use that picture of M&M’s. I’m glad I’ve gotten over trying to come up with the best order to eat them. (It doesn’t matter: your tongue will change colour anyway.)

    The paradox of choice you mention can be equated to analysis paralysis. Fear of making a choice. Trying to see all possible scenario’s beforehand, and then making the optimal choice. That might be a neat trick. But optimal results are achieved so much faster by just following your instinct, regularly checking your course, and making adjustments along the way.

    I wholeheartedly agree that changing directions is not the same as failure. I’d consider it actually the opposite of. Think of it: it would be far worse to stubbornly continue ahead even though you know full well that this might not be the best idea. You can call it “commitment” and whatnot, but that’s just fooling yourself.

  12. Rob Farquhar says:

    So the only losing move is not to play? :)

    • Stijn says:

      Exactly. Fear of loss is a bad motivational factor. If you don’t risk a little in life, you might as well crawl in your coffin already.

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