The paradox and pain of choice

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Photo by Mister M on Unsplash

I’ve been thinking a lot about the paradox of choice. We live in an age where it seems you can create a business out of anything. Jobs exist now that people couldn’t haveĀ  imagined 100, 50, or even 20 years ago, and new niches continue to be carved out.

Despite this seemingly endless landscape of opportunity–the idea that you can achieve your dreams if you work at them, and if you want them badly enough–we’re unhappy. Diagnoses of mental health conditions are on the rise. This could in part be due to greater awareness and conversation around mental health, but I think it’s also tied to the overwhelming amount of information and mental stimuli we have access to in this age of the Internet and social media.

The idea of the “American Dream” used to be a steady job, a spouse, a house, two kids, a white picket fence. This is shifting. Our ideals are shifting. The dream is self-employment. It’s financial freedom. It’s a husband, a wife, or independence. It’s no kids or maybe five kids. It’s an apartment, a condo, a van.

There was a time when you accepted that you had to work. You got a job, you fed your family. Maybe you didn’t love it, but you didn’t question it. Now we’re regularly faced with an appeal to “live our truth” and follow our dreams–with the lifestyles of influencers and Instagram models making it seem like we made a mistake somewhere. The 9-to-5 culture is increasingly viewed as a trap rather than an achievement. How did we end up here?

I’m all for self improvement, and I’ve fallen into it full force this year in a quest to find peace and meaning with my every day. There isn’t harm in it on its own, but the danger is falling into the habit of constantly seeking the unattainable. There’s always a new way to do things better, faster, simpler; to be stronger more resilient, kinder to ourselves, more productive, more social, more self disciplined. We’ll never achieve perfection, so of course we’re dissatisfied. We’re constantly told that we’re doing the wrong things in the wrong way, our discontentment affirmed by someone else’s tropical vacation. Once you’ve started to question whether what you’re doing is worth doing, you allow doubt to creep in and take its hold. It never will be enough, because there will always be something new.

There’s something to a simpler time–of accepting your fate or accepting your choice and moving forward. There’s a reason why successful people wear the same outfit every day. We have a limited capacity to make decisions. Decisions used to be for bigger moments, but now we make several before we even get to breakfast, and we run the risk of depleting our mental reserves.

I fully recognize that I’m writing this as a white woman of privilege, and that for many people, there is still no opportunity. I don’t mean to imply otherwise. What I have been struggling with is the awareness that a lot of my perceived problems are a result of the comparison trap–and that a degree of surrender to circumstance can have a positive impact.

If you read this ramble all the way through (thank you!), what do you think? Can you relate? How do you combat the comparison trap?