“I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.” — Robert Frost
Not bad words to live by I suppose, but I get the idea somehow that this leads us to believe there is some one choice that will make all the difference.
Life is a lot of choices and in fact maybe life is just a continuous series of choices. Granted, I’m not saying they’re all significant, though certainly a pattern of similar small choices can began to have as much impact as big choices.
You see, sometimes in life you want more choices and sometimes you want less.
Too many choices and you are paralyzed. Too few choices and you feel trapped. The trick is knowing when to limit your choices and when to expand them.
For example, some young people graduating from high school or college have the world before them. They can choose anything they want (within reality) and yet they can’t choose. Too many choices. Even too many good choices. What if I pick the wrong one? What if to infinity. There’s no answer to that.
The same might be true for an adult who has been working the same job for too long and is looking to change. But change to what? You’re an adult. You can do whatever you want. But you can’t choose.
This goes back to knowing when to expand your options and when to limit them. So for those struggling with making choices, I offer what we’ll call the Options Paradox: You have to limit your options in order to expand them.
This is the paradox where you have to have faith in yourself and the universe. No sugar coating this. The Option Paradox does not make choosing that one option easier. It’s still hard. It’s still stepping into the unknown. But obviously to break the gridlock, you have to choose one. Time to have some faith. Faith that paradox is true. Faith in yourself, and faith in yourself is trusting you have the skills to make this work. And you do.
The key is that since you don’t know where you want to go (at least not consciously) it doesn’t matter where you start. It’s the old adage I like to use when I travel by myself: If you don’t know where you’re going, you can’t get lost. Now if you’re worried about what others will think, you can always quote Gandalf when they question your choices: All who wander are not lost.
So now you’ve committed to a path, a passion, a pursuit, a discipline. But the work has just begun. In order for the Option Paradox to play itself out you have to commit yourself to curiosity, to educating yourself about your new passion. You have to do the homework. You have to dig in. Be active.
Because what you’re going to find is that this new discipline is much more nuanced, much more subtle, more fragmented than you thought. You’re going to know things you didn’t even know you didn’t know. Your general idea of your passion will explode like light through a prism. Each of those rainbow of colors emitting from the prism is a new path, a new choice, a new option. It’s how you begin to open up your options after that first limiting choice.
Now, you’ll make your next leap of faith and choose one of those. And maybe again and again, from path to path, from option to option. And sometimes those paths jump disciplines and you don’t even realize it. And soon you’re on a path that belongs to an option you eliminated in the first step. Whoa! How did that happen?
The Options Paradox, of course. How does it work? I have no idea, though I suppose perhaps on the belief that life is too complex to think we can pick a straight path and all we can do is choose the next best divergence that stretches in front of us.