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On Decision-making

The Thinker Rodin sculpture
The Thinker (Rodin)

'So, what do you want to do next year?'

Argh… Once again I am confronted with that dreaded question that haunts all students in their final school year. It is a question that suggests we might be statistical geniuses who can predict the probability of our happiness and fulfillment in a particular field, taking into consideration  the infinite number of unknown variables, and give a confident answer that ticks all the boxes. How accurate an answer can we ever give to that?

I am the most indecisive person you will ever meet. I have concluded this after observing myself in every kind of situation, from menu perusing to big issues about my future.  The trouble is that I simply cannot bear to turn things down. This has turned me into an effective “hustler of life”, where I try to fit in every activity available, make plans with every person I know, and leave events early so that I can attend other tantalising engagements.

A simple question most people ask themselves when faced with a myriad of choices, is ‘Would you rather …?’ Unfortunately, ‘Would you rather?’ does not exist in my world. It is a matter of ‘When would you rather?’, and you can be sure that I will find every means possible to do it all. This is true for holiday plans, what to study next year and the delights of dining out. In fact, I’ve devised a strategy in restaurants which solves my dilemma. I now order multiple starters that constitute a meal so that I can savour as many tastes as possible in one dining experience. A bit much?

I sense that this inability to settle for one and not the other is born of a culture that bombards us with choices. I have more choices at my fingertips than my great grandparents ever had. On a daily basis, I choose what to wear out of a closet of clothes (many of which have been unworn in over a year and may continue so for perhaps another); I choose what music to listen to from a library of over 3 000 songs; I choose what to eat from a fridge that stocks food that may well expire before it sees the light of day. The choices are endless, but they don’t make me feel any more advanced as a human being or any happier. On matters of more serious concern, such as what to study in the future, I am equally baffled. Should I go for a BBusSci or a BCom International Business? Medicine or Engineering? BA or a BSc?

I realize that these choices are a luxury to be appreciated. Wealth essentially is about choice. People don’t hoard money for the sake of having a figure in a bank. They hoard it for the possibilities it affords them; the choices they will be able to make with it and the sense of power they gain with such choices before them. Such is life, and the poor man does not bemoan his misfortune because he has to constantly chase money, but rather because his lack of it physically and emotionally cripples his ability to choose. He may prefer to send his child to a prestigious school, but due to his lowly income he is unable to actualize this choice. Is this not why we youngsters chase after high-paying jobs? The incomes we hope for will allow us the bliss of acting on our every wish .

Seeking to increase our choices, like all in things in life, can be both a vice and a virtue (and I fear it is fast becoming the former in my case). It can become a serious problem when one’s life is ruled by FOMO – that popular phenomenon which is the fear of missing out. I used to think this was a sorry state reserved for socially starved 5th wheelers who had nothing better to do than hang on to the lives of others. But now I see that it is a grave issue that affects most young people, myself included!  It is when we strain to do everything that is humanly possible, desiring in vain to achieve a sense of control over life’s events. It is a mindset that says that because we can, we should. And yes, this an analysis of a first world problem if ever there was one. It seems that those who are fortunate with choices are often unfortunate with choosing, and being content thereafter - and so in order to prevent possible regrets, they ensure that there is a line-up of other options for every activity they plan.

This is a personal problem that many young people struggle with, even if they don’t realize it. Being unconscious of one’s own indecision can have disastrous effects on one’s goals and relationships. I have made it a point to improve my decision-making skills (a decent decision!) Here are my guidelines for the indecisive:

Disclaimer: this is a poor stint at being a self-help guru considering that I am still afflicted by the very problem on which I am dishing out advice. Nonetheless;

To be decisive:

  • Have an acute awareness of when you are being called upon to choose.

  • Don’t allow yourself to waver between choices for too long. When asked to choose, don’t give responses such as, ‘I’ll get back to you’, or ‘Can I give you an answer at the end of the week?’ Decide now!

  • Be aware of the things on which you base your choices. Are you inclined to agree to engagements simply because you don’t want to miss out? Is there any value to you or in what you are doing, or are you merely filling a void with busyness so that you can claim to have been productive? If you see no value in it for you, is there perhaps a value to someone else?

Young people are at a stage where the choices we make now will determine the course of the rest of our lives. We need to get into the habit of being decisive and accountable. After all, how are we going to become world leaders if we can’t even make up our minds between fries and onion rings?


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