Sunday, January 20, 2008

Double Trouble, Toil & Strife, Too Many Choices in Your Life

(One from the archives...)

My heart goes out to earnest Karen Olson ("Too Many Choices?" Utne Reader, June 2003, p.61 ), who is overwhelmed by everyday choices.  Karen fears that each choice irrevocably defines her identity, and defines the points on which others will judge her.  Karen wants freedom, but cannot separate the ideas of freedom and choice.  She is highly conscious of the symbolic aspect of decision making, for instance, the correlation of consumer choice with economic class.  She mentions her "struggles and anxieties."

OK, Karen, I understand you may have been deliberately naive, in order to provide a setup for the issue's subsequent, more profound articles about making choices.  Nonetheless, here is my advice for you, drawn from my book The Conscious Manager: Zen for Decision Makers:

You are smart enough to know your identity has nothing to do with consumer choices, and it's only a handful of buttheads on Madison Avenue who are trying to convince you otherwise.  So first, find out who you are.  How?  As my book's subtitle suggests, meditate!  You will find out who you are.  You will realize you do not need to struggle.  You will understand that anxiety doesn't help.  You will worry less about what others think. Your mind will be free. 

A member of the Japanese imperial family - whose every waking moment was strictly scheduled - once remarked that she pitied those who must constantly make choices about how to spend their time.  Such choices, she noted, distract one from the perfect freedom of mind that ritual behavior makes possible.  Her sentiment is similar to that expressed by Buddhist monks imprisoned in China; behind bars, their choices are limited, but their minds are not.

With a clear identity and a free mind, you can attack Step Two:  Decide on a mission.  Perhaps yours is to make the world's best magazine even better, or to raise your children in a loving, educational environment.  As a consequence of identity, clarity, and mission (this is Step 3), all your daily decisions will spring forth spontaneously.  You will be a conscious manager, making choices with greater speed, less anxiety, and fewer regrets.

As for the symbolism of making choices, please note the wisdom in "The Greening of Tony Soprano" (same issue, page 74), to wit, "Sometimes a duck is just a duck."

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