The paradox of choice, a ponder on purpose, growing up and other mind fruits from February

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πŸ‘‹ Hi, I’m Ross, an ex-Management & Technology Innovation Consultant and current β€˜what-the-fuck-am-I-doing-with-my-life-but-slightly-closer-to-figuring-it-out-than-last-month-Master’. This will likely make more sense if you read the last newsletter...

Welcome back to Collecting Dots.

In my last newsletter, I concluded with the point that sometimes you have to stop to move forward.

Although I have done my best to do this, it's much MUCH harder than I'd have thought. Anyway, unsurprisingly I have a few thoughts after this month, so...

My key takeaways from February in this update:

  1. Be the satisfier - The Paradox of Choice
  2. What's it all for? Some thoughts on'growing up' + a bit of philosophy
  3. A request for 10 minutes of your time


I've also recorded this - perhaps you're more of a listener, if so, perhaps take me with you on a walk.

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1. Be the satisfier - The Paradox of Choice (article 1)


For much of my life, I have struggled with decisiveness or rather indecisiveness. A trip to the supermarket led to total choice overload on many occasions growing up, and clothes shopping - total fucking nightmare. Truly hell. It's impacted decision making, knocked my outcomes on university essays as I looked at too many possible ways of answering a question, and, now I'm really being open, has negatively impacted relationships with ex-girlfriends.
I've had jokes about it with friends before (one of my closest friends, Jolly, being very similar - if you watch us together try to decide on something you'll want to pull your hair out; although this has changed as we've got older).

I'm also a victim of my own excitement and without sounding like a total wanker, to my positivity. I am easily excited by new things, new ideas and other people's passions and experiences. When I hear about what someone is doing for work, for a hobby or for whatever reason, I get so deeply interested and invested in it I quickly think I want to do it too. It's why I have a reputation amongst my friends of having had many fads - as I have indeed had many fads.

My family and I have a joke about all the career options I have wanted. After I've spent a few minutes with someone talking about their job it doesn't take me long to think I should be doing that too, and not only should be but would fucking loveeee to be. It's genuine interest and as much as I try to tell myself it's just in this moment, I find it hard not to believe it.

Now, I've of course come at the above with more negative framing. However, with both the interest in many things and the positive mindset in mind, I am totally comfortable with my approach to life and am not being overly critical of myself, don't worry (you weren't worried, fine, good).

It's more of an awareness and a challenge of how I can best use this knowledge of myself to my advantage, and in fact I'm excited by the recent development in how I will apply this to my business and career (and hopefully this might bring some awareness to yourself or someone you might be able to help too).

Creativity is largely the ability to connect fragmented ideas in novel ways. This thinking in maps networked mindset is what has created historical geniuses and continues to do so.

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Polymaths and 'the renaissance man', from Leonardo Da Vinci to Isaac Newtown, Bill Gates to Elon Musk. I'm not saying I'm the next Leonardo Da Vinci / Elon Musk but you get my drift. More on this another time.

Anyway, why would I be telling you this? Well, I don't think I'm entirely alone in my woes of choice. Although perhaps a more extreme example, this problem of choice is not unique.

Choice is becoming more and more of an issue in today's working world and in our personal lives. As the world continues to move so quickly, due to technological change and the democratisation of information and knowledge (ah yes, did you know, perhaps you haven't heard...the world and technology are moving rather quickly), new jobs, new opportunities and new things emerge.

On top of this, due to the social platforms we all know and love (sarcasm), the options for life are presented to us much more frequently than ever before. One moment you can be sat working away, not necessarily loving the task but also not analysing whether you like it or not, and all of sudden your knee-deep in a scroll cocktail.

One part people throwing in the towel on their corporate life in favour of a van on Insta, with a hint of school friends celebrating their latest promotion on LinkedIn, followed by a dash of the World Economic Forum TECH TRENDS YOU MUST KNOW ABOUT IF YOU ARE TO SURVIVE THE 21st CENTURY, a topping of some new app you might be missing out on and finally a dash of an inspirational video on taking your life by the balls because no one else will do it for you.

Shit, back to work... oh god, do I even like this job? Queue existential crisis.

You see, it's easy to find your work less fulfilling if you constantly are looking over the fence to see what someone else is doing - what someone is perhaps finding more fulfilling, or at least you think they are finding more fulfilling.

But, I digress, the point of this point isn't to go off on a social media rant but rather to share some wisdom and thoughts on this choice conundrum.

The Paradox of Choice, a concept theorised by Barry Schwartz in his 2005 book, helps rationalise a lot of this quite well.T he paradox of choice is the fact that in western developed societies a large amount of choice is commonly associated with welfare and freedom but too much choice causes the feeling of less happiness, less satisfaction and can lead to analysis paralysis. He writes (bonus for the listeners...I do an American accent)

"Autonomy and Freedom of choice are critical to our well being, and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy. Nonetheless, though modern Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, we don't seem to be benefiting from it psychologically.

— quoted from Ch.5, The Paradox of Choice, 2004


It essentially all comes down to trade-offs and perceived value. To the potential of 'missed opportunities'. When people are faced with having to choose one option out of many desirable choices, they will begin to consider hypothetical trade-offs.

Their options are evaluated in terms of missed opportunities instead of the opportunity's potential. In other words, after choosing an alternative with a plurality but not a majority of utility, people remember the sum of the lost utility rather than that they made the utility-maximizing choice.

This can be more easily described through the terms, first used by Herbert Simon in the 1950s when referring to consumer choice, maximizers and satisfiers.

Maximizers are those that need to be assured every decision they make is the best that could have been made. They imagine all possible alternatives and outcomes, which in turn, creates anxiety over decision making as the endless options unravel (think chess pieces on the ceiling in The Queens Gambit - few of us really have the mental capacity to do such a thing; well, none really)....Hey Beth.,..

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The alternative, the satisfier, instead has a list of some criteria and standards but is not all that worried about the possibility that there might be something better.

So, the lesson?

Ultimately, in the Paradox of Choice, Schwartz concludes that satisficing, or being the satisfier, is in fact, the maximising strategy.

Part of maturity is being able to make a decision with confidence and let the others go. Not necessarily letting them go forever, but knowing what the focus is in this moment, whilst holding a bigger vision where perhaps other things may one day neatly, or not so neatly, fit into. This mental model has certainly been a great help to me this month - seems obvious I'm sure but I doubt many really have a clear vision for the life they'd really like to lead.

Fear of making the wrong decision is one of the reasons that many people hesitate when faced with a choice. You may be afraid of failure or even the consequences of success. You may worry what other people will think about you.

And this largely comes down to perfectionism. For people to be able to pivot their lives and careers at the speed required in today’s rapidly shifting world - new paradigms in our own lives and the worlds' each day - you have got to lose the perfectionism and face the facts - you’re gunna fuck up, get caught with your trousers down, embarrass yourself and look like the foul. God if I questioned every typo or every thought in the writing I’ve been doing through this newsletter for example I'd never have shared anything.

As Matthew McConaughey says in his book Green lights I've been listening to -
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‍"Note to Self -too many options can make a tyrant out of any of us, so we should get rid of the excess in our lives that keep us from being more of ourselves. When we decrease the options that don’t feed us we eventually, almost accidentally have more options in front of us that do"

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So, be the satisfier (I'm half telling this to you, and half shouting this at myself) :). Perhaps I'll share some tips on how to be this next month!

(more from Barry below)

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2. Β What's it all for? Some thoughts on 'growing up', purpose + a bit of philosophy

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In my previous newsletter one of the points was around freedom:

"FREEDOM is not what I thought it was...it starts with knowing what it is you want and don't want. It is about deducing what you don't like as much as it is about finding 'your calling".

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This has been something I've thought about over the last month, although it's harder to figure out what you don't want when you're not doing all that much 'doing'. That said, over the last month I have become more aware of what I do want. I'll focus less on the work stuff briefly.

The last month I've been lucky to be surfing regularly, doing the odd bits on my van and complete random tasks I've been meaning to. I've even built a lego model of a campervan and completed a 1000 piece puzzle (now I truly sound like I've lost the plot).

Now, reading back that sounds pretty nice to most I'm sure - a holiday from home - however I won't lie and say I've just been flying high the whole time. I've still had a great deal of pondering, wondering, searching - whatever it is you'd call it. I have struggled to feel a sense of meaning without making some progress on work related things. It's a strange one, perhaps others would be better at chilling than I am, but what is clear is we do all need to be doing something. This doesn't have to be some overarching life meaning, but have a plan and routine in place to follow, and goals to meet - even if they are all goals purely made up of pleasure (if you're really that privileged as I have been - yes I am totally totally aware of the privilege from which I am writing and thinking).

I've also had some time to reflect a little less on what I don't want and more on what I do want. The type of business I'd like to run, the type of value I'd like to offer, the things I'd like to be known for etc. I've also thought about the life I would like.

I think one of the reasons the 'quarter-life crisis is so common, and becoming more so, is due to the way in which life is being delayed a little more for many than previous generations. Yes, this is due to house prices, rent costs, cost of living etc, but it is also due to the desire to find a sense of 'purpose' and an impatience to get there which perhaps wasn't seen as so crucial before.

At the age I am now, historically, it was far more normal to have had a child, or planning to have one. Someone once said to me when we spoke about purpose and why our generation seems so caught up with impact compared to our parent's generation, is that we are having children and families later, and well, that gives you a hell of a lot of purpose, I’m sure. There are of course many other reasons for this generation's desire for impact, but that's a different conversation.

Without getting too philosophical, I’m cautious of going full Dawkins the Selfish Gene on you, other than serving those around, spreading love, and supporting family and friends, passing on our knowledge and life experiences to the next generation does seem like the closest thing to a 'purpose'.

It's the closest thing to a common thread that has been consistent for millennia (I'd really recommended checking out this Ted Talk - Big History - which definitely puts life and the world in perspective).

For thousands of years life has passed on information through DNA - the difference today since the relatively recent age of the Homosapaies, and one theory for the rapid explosion of innovation and change is thanks to our, to humans, unique ability to pass down information through language rather than DNA.

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This of course does not have to be your own children, although of course it can be if you have chosen to have them, but to someone of the next generation - leaving a legacy which is greater than you are. And further to this, in order to leave this legacy, there must also be a place to leave it - hence my interest and desire to work in the energy transition and sustainability spaces - and why I want to encourage the brightest minds to do just that.

So yes, I have figured out a little more of the life I would want - and I guess a more 'adult life'.

In the brilliant 'Late Bloomers' I've spoken of before, Kaarlgard mentions the research on Emerging Adulthood. This research helps shed light on a stage many many people in my age group now find ourselves in - it certainly illustrates many of my feelings. One part thinking of university or childhood not being so far away, another part looking at a more 'adult' lifestyle.

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‍I do believe your 20s, if you are fortunate enough to make it happen, is and should be a time of discovery. This is backed up by neuroscience on ageing and development plus the wisdom of those that have been there and reflected.

Yet there is also some tension between the idea of laying down routes and getting things in place, and being free from education, childhood and early adolescence to try figure out what it is you really want from life, and what it is you'd like to offer.

So, a peculiar little ponder here - perhaps I'll read this back and laugh at what I once thought, but at least I'll know that I had thought about it.

(short history talk here - well worth 18 minutes of your time!)

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3. A short request for your time

‍Finally, a short request for your time. Without going into too much detail as there is nothing concrete in this work and I'd rather not bias your answers, I am conducting a bit of research into careers, coaching and transitions.
Please follow this link to the survey, and pass it on to anyone you know that might be interested / be happy to offer their 2 cents.

It's light-hearted, conversational and will be incredibly beneficial for me - thank you to those that are able to help out.- survey here

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+ Personal side note.

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+ Final side note on this newsletter-blog

Following my last newsletter, a few people reached out to talk about what they heard. I had comments including:
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‍"I see you as a great guinea pig; it's really useful to watch and read your journey"
"I like to read your stuff, it's helpful, sort of like looking over to see if the grass really is greener"


Well, thank you. This was and is the intention. I'm definitely keen to show people what it's all about, or what it's all been about to me anyway. So if you have any questions or thoughts after reading this, if you're considering your own transition but not sure how, drop me a message/email - always happy to chat.

And, as much as this is great that others are enjoying and finding value in my thoughts, I also have to say the process is useful for me too. Taking some time out each month or every few weeks to write this really is powerful. It allows me to reflect on what I was writing the month before, a sort of conversation with my previous self, which I think is only really possible through writing. So, whether a blog or a daily or weekly journal, I'd really encourage you to write to yourself a little if you're not already.

As I write this now I know that I am both talking to last month's Ross and next's - the present really is just a conversation of the past and future. And we all know the best conversations are had one we truly engage, listen to understand and focus on what is being heard.

All the best and thanks for reading.

Life is in the dots collected as much as it is in the dots connected.

Keep collecting dots.

See you next month,

Ross

Written by
Ross Power