Overcoming the Fear of Choosing

Being indecisive is perhaps my most frustrating weakness. When I get in line at my favorite pizza joint, it takes me a full 5 minutes to decide between the lasagna or the pizza. when I finally decide I’ll have pizza I have to make the agonizing decision between the 4 toppings that I’m considering.The internal dialogue sounds something like this:

Hmmm, should I get mushrooms with sausage? Ohhh but they have chicken too. It counts as 2 toppings so maybe I’ll just have chicken and plain. Wait, no, I’m trying to lose my gut I should stick with mushrooms and sausage. Wait but brocolli’s really good too. And healthy. Shit I’m almost next in line. Broccoli and Sausage? Mushrooms and Feta?

Impatient Pizza Employee-“Lady, what’ll it be?

Me: Umm…Broccoli and Feta. No! I meant sausage.

My internal dialogue: nice job fatty

Me: Ok, yeah, actually. Broccoli and Mushroom. Broccoli and Mushroom.

Then while in line I’ll see someone walk past me with a fresh plate of steamy lasagna and I’ll think to myself “ Shit, I should have gotten the lasagna”.

Now, in a tiny pizza shop with a glaring Italian and like 15 people in line behind you,there is no alternative to choosing. You must make a decision.  Ahhh, if only life were more like a local pizza shop rather than a massive box of chocolates. Deciding where to eat is hard, but the bigger questions in life can have you hemming and hawing for months or even years. And what’s worst, if they’re open ended enough (as most personal options in life are), then you can decide not to choose.

Trying to decide what your major is? You can float between sociology, public policy, and music appreciation classes for 3 years before deciding to make up a major called Musical Governance of Anthropological Studies. After all, your academic interests are too diverse to be pegged into just one limited subject that already exists.

Trying to decide what your passion is so you can land a job that you’re really passionate about and begin living your passionate life? You can spend another 5 years working retail while you abstract with your fellow employees about how you are waiting for the Obama Administration to create a position for someone who recognizes the importance of cultural differences in music regulation…someone like you.

This is not to minimize the importance of committing to things that matter to you or to demean people who find themselves paralyzed by indecision. As stated earlier, I am those people. And for the past few years, I have found myself in these ambiguous places I never chose simply because..well…I was afraid of making the less than perfect choice and opted to make no choice at all. I found that after high school, as I started to make “big life choices” regarding my career path or how to identify and fulfill my purpose, I was constantly met by indecision simply because of my acute fear of the unknown.

Sure, I know that I enjoy working with organizations that have interesting missions and work with kids, but I don’t know if I will like this 10 years later, or if I will be good working with children, or if I will be good working with adults, or if I can get a job with these organizations that will enable me to support myself, and my aging parents, and the dog and child I don’t have yet. So maybe starting a commitment with the Boys and Girls Club right now wouldn’t be such a good idea. Where does that kind of thinking and inaction leave you, me or anyone? And perhaps more importantly, alluding to the title of the blog, how do you break through it? I think the principles outlined in this talk with Randy Komisar provide a great start to how to decide. Rather than getting hung up on the making THE ONE RIGHT DECISION, finding your one passion or your one career, use your values to determine what direction you want to go and then based on the opportunities before you, take advantage of them.

It also helps to put fear of the unknown in perspective by thinking about all the decisions some of the world’s most influential people made without knowing where they would end up. I mean, can you imagine Dr. Martin Luther King in college going “hmmm, social change through ministry is fascinating. I’m really interested in it. But I just don’t know if I’ll like wearing that black minister robe every week, or being in a church with no A/C for the first  few years, or having to rep Jesus when I’m into Buddah too, and what if I run out of things to say…there are only so many pages in the dern Bible. I’ll just make up a Fashion Ministry of Buddhist Change major until I know exactly where I want to go…” Rooiiighhhhhhtttt.While leaders like Dr. King could not possibly have predicted that his path would place him at such a pivotal place in this country’s history, the decisions that he made to indulge in his interests at different points in his life, prepared him to make the ultimate impact that he did.

My mental impasse stops here.  I’m going to make the small or big, scary or menial decisions necessary to find my place in Social Enterprise because today, it is an idea that I believe in. While I have no idea if I’ll feel this way as time passes and I work more closely within the sector, I realize that all powerful journeys start with taking a step in SOME direction, not hanging out in the cave trying to plan out the best path to the best  end.

So I end this discussion with not just my personal declaration of releasing the fear of the unknown but with a challenge for you to reflect on the fears keeping you safe in your own lives. Do you fear failure? success? change? disapproval? What have you done to overcome the fear of choosing before and what could you do to inspire action necessary to overcome your fear today?

4 Responses to “Overcoming the Fear of Choosing”
  1. Claire says:

    I totally empathize: I keep wanting to make the perfect decision, which is silly and largely self-defeating. Not to mention stressful.
    A friend gave me good advice that I’m trying had to take to heart: ‘Let go of the decisions you haven’t made,’ and ‘There are no bad decisions.’ It’s true! Each one just reorients you towards new decisions. There is no WRONG path, just different paths. As long as you’re making progress and learning, I’d say you’re on a good path.

    • Kim Campbell says:

      oooooo “Let go of the decisions you haven’t made”.

      This is a good one. Thanks for sharing that quote. It immediately brings you back to the fact that you’re stressing over stuff that hasn’t even happened yet.


  2. Jay says:

    Sensational group of questions at end of post, Kim.

    I know I’ve been afraid of both success and failure, probably the former more, I hate to admit.

    I remember thinking when I was around 20, “Well, what if I’m successful now. What will I do for a second act?”

    I’m well into third act now, I’m guessing, and still haven’t found success I imagined at 20 would come by say, 35.

    You might get yourself a copy of David Allen’s Getting Things Done. I’m writing weekly about his Ready For Anything, which extrapolates the GTD ideas forward in 52 chapters, a nice framework for a year’s worth of blogging.

    Collect. Process.Organize.Review.Do. I acronymize it to CoPORD.

    It works, and I’m working it, albeit imperfectly.

    Try it.

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