See?!? I shouldn’t have . . .

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Hindsight is not always 20/20.

It’s hard not to judge our decisions and actions on a situation’s ultimate outcome.

We pick A instead of B, the situation goes terribly wrong, and we think “See? I shouldn’t have picked A. I should have picked B instead.” This hindsight feels simple. But it’s not. It’s fuzzy and confusing.

The world is a massive place teeming with a billion billion little forces. When your best laid plans go wrong (as they will), give yourself the space to remember: “The world is a massive place teeming with a billion billion little forces. Maybe this wasn’t all my fault.”

We have a tendency to judge our own decisions and the decisions of others (think significant other, friend, doctor, boss, teen-aged child, world leader–so many others)–to judge those decisions, after the fact, by what happened in the end. And then we draw powerful lessons. Lessons about what is “stupid” or “silly” or “unnecessary” or “not-worth-it” or “my fault.” Worse, we let others draw those lessons for us and, embarrassed, we quietly accept the lessons deep into our hearts.

A few examples might help . . .

You decide that you should speak up with your co-worker about something you don’t feel good about. Maybe something he’s doing that upsets you. Something that’s making your job harder. Maybe something you feel is unethical or unsafe. It’s such a tough decision for you to make–to speak up–because you hate confrontation, you don’t want to be mean, you’re worried about a putting a target on your back, you might be wrong, you don’t get the workplace politics game well enough. But you make up your mind. You speak up. And it goes terribly. Zero acceptance, zero awareness, zero accountability. By the end of it all, the one co-worker is out to get you and all your other co-workers have heard you’re a tool. . . . So did you make the wrong call?

Or maybe you’ve always been very socially anxious and don’t have a lot of friends. You grew up with too many relationships that went poorly. You never learned to trust that there was good in people. Despite all this, you finally get up the courage to make a friend. You try opening up a little bit. You put yourself out there. And it goes terribly wrong. Turns out he has zero interest in you, only in what he can get from you. He breaks your confidence and ends up shaming you for your personality and you’re left feeling more lonely and anxious than before you ever tried. . . . So would it have been better not to open up?

Or maybe you’ve been struggling for years over what you should do with a toxic family member. You need your own healthy boundaries and she always brings forward so much hurt and confusion for you. But “she’s family” and you do love her. Finally after some therapy and sleepless nights, you make the choice that you can’t have a healthy relationship with her and that you’ll both be happier if you let her go. Her birthday comes around later that year and, knowing how lonely she is, you feel deeply guilty and sad. You miss the idea of having a relationship with her and you feel deep sympathy for her sad experience of life. So much guilt. . . . So does that make the choice you made the wrong choice?

It’s easy to say yes to all these. To see something go “wrong” and immediately feel that your choice was clearly wrong. That it’s your fault. To say, “See? I shouldn’t have done that!” Shouldn’t have signed up for that race. Shouldn’t have reached out to that family member. Shouldn’t have stood up to the bullying. Shouldn’t have applied for that job. Shouldn’t have taken that medication. Shouldn’t have listened to that friend. Shouldn’t have auditioned for that choir. Shouldn’t have opened up to that person about being depressed.

But hindsight is not that simple. Choice-A being followed by Bad does not mean Choice-A caused Bad. And Choice-A leading to Bad does not mean Choice-B would have led to any better. A billion billion little forces. A hundred little choices. We do our best. Our instincts and our experience are helpful. We listen, we try, we leap. And sometimes, life also hurts.

When something “goes wrong,” please don’t jump to the conclusion that it means you never should have tried it. That you’ve made the wrong choices in life. That it obviously would have been better if you’d made the different choices.

And when someone says to you, “See, you shouldn’t have . . .”–please be careful about the shame and guilt you accept from them, and how you let their judgment change you.

Almost every time I’ve ever heard myself tell myself–or someone else tell me–“See, you shouldn’t have . . .” it’s been a very quick take, a very knee-jerk reaction, a very simplistic perspective. It’s been for the sake of putting out a spark, shifting the blame, self-preservation. Yes, sometimes we have to wrestle with whether we’ve made some bad choices or need to make some changes. But in my experience, most of the times we hear–from ourselves or others–that “See?!?” reaction . . . it’s not fair, it’s not realistic, and it’s not helpful.

Stick up for yourself a little. Keep that spark alive, the one you followed, even when you didn’t know how it would end up. Remember the billion billion forces, and make your little choices anyway, as best you can. And then, when life still hurts, let it be life.

Because very, very, very likely, yes you SHOULD have. And you should again tomorrow!

No shame, no embarrassment, no blame, no guilt. Live your life, no matter what they (or you) say when embarrassment sends them (or you) scrambling to explain life’s curveballs. You’re doing great. :)

P. S. After all, what if you just never bothered trying things you weren’t already certain about? . . .

Endless Options and the Hopelessness of Getting it Right

Schitt’s Creek . . . The Great British Baking Show . . . Peaky Blinders . . . El Camino . . . Surf’s Up . . . Ancient Aliens . . . Mary Poppins Returns . . .

You’re going to watch Netflix. Easy decision.

Which show? Not so easy.

How much time, on average, do you spend scrolling through Netflix options before settling on the show you’re actually going to watch? There are the “Popular on Netflix” titles like above. You also have “New This Week” to explore. “Critically Acclaimed Movies.” “Goofy Comedies.” Even “Binge-worthy Supernatural TV Horror.”

In the end, of course, the endless options become so overwhelming that you scroll back up to the “Continue Watching for Peter” section and click on “The Office.”

 

Life constantly presents choices for us to make–tons of them. Too many of them. And for each choice, there are a thousand options. More.

The endless options presented frequently leave us experiencing a strange phenomenon, termed “Overchoice” by the writer Alvin Toffler: We become overwhelmed. Maybe paralyzed. Certainly stressed. Disappointed or dissatisfied. What if we’re making the wrong choice? What are the risks in that other choice? What might happen if I pick that one? What might happen if I don’t?

 

Life hands us some pretty insignificant dilemmas: What should I wear today?

But life also hands us some pretty consequential dilemmas, too: Who should I date? What should I study?

And if you’re in business or in management, it seems like every day throws you a hundred of those consequential decisions, each with its own set up endless options: Who should lead this project? Which design to pick? Which candidates should be hired? How should this process be ordered? How should the surplus be used?

Trying to figure out which choice to make is a great idea. This blog post is not about how to do that.

This blog post is about when you’re ready to bang your head against the wall because there are too many “right” choices and too many “wrong” choices. When you’re at your wits’ end, because if you choose A, then B will happen, but if you choose B, then C will happen, and if you choose A and B, then OMG what if XYZ happens?! You can think of a hundred reasons for each option and a hundred reasons against each option, and you’ve already exhausted a hundred options.

Then what?

Well it’s a consequential matter, so you’d better figure out the best option. Right?

Wrong.

 

I think one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned about decision making–particularly when it comes to management and business, but I think in other areas of life as well–is this:

Choosing the “right” option isn’t THAT important.

Ew, that sentence doesn’t feel right.

Sure, in some situations, you’ll have several options and after a little research be pretty confident about which option will lead to the best results. And when you can figure that out, great!

But really, in lots and lots of situations, you’ll have an endless number of options, and “getting it right” is absolutely hopeless. Or at least, so unlikely and so messy that it’s probably healthier in the long run to just go with a GOOD choice (instead of THE RIGHT choice) and then focus all your energy on executing that choice like a pro.

When you spend hours and hours, days and days, on one decision, you might find yourself no closer to figuring it out. No more confident. Worse, you might have finally settled on the exact right option only to have a sudden new thought knock your decision right off balance again. Back to the drawing board.

You can put so much unrealistic pressure on yourself, responsibility to somehow determine each potential outcome, to know each risk inside and out. You can lose sleep over whether you’re making the right or wrong choice, because you just can’t be quite sure.

And goodness knows, no matter how right your choice, it will turn out to be wrong. Something bad WILL happen because of the option you picked, no matter what. If you pick A, you’ll realize that it cost you B. And if you pick B, you’ll realize that it cost you A.

So maybe there isn’t one “right” option. And even if there is, maybe you have no way of discovering it. Maybe it makes better sense to flip through fifty options, pick your ten favorites to analyze, and flip a coin over the two that “feel” the most right after a while.

 

Honestly, you’re not going to be successful–at business, at management, at life–because you somehow put your finger on the absolutely right choice. You’re going to be successful because you kicked butt when you executed on the choice that was made. You’re going to be successful because when an option was finally chosen, you embraced it, you didn’t look back, you made the best of its weaknesses, and you pushed full steam ahead to explore and capitalize on its strengths. You didn’t lose too much sleep. You didn’t drive yourself nuts. You’re not wallowing in guilt for what your decision might have cost. You’re not wasting loads of time and energy examining endless options. You’re not giving up completely and ignoring the decision to be made. You’re just leading and executing like a bad-ass.

 

So when you find yourself unsure of what to pick, afraid you’ll make the wrong choice, sometimes it’s all going to go better if you just go for it!

After all, no matter which option you pick, right before you commit, you’re definitely going to think, “Oh man, that wasn’t the right decision, was it?”

So stop aiming at perfection. Just aim at something great and then move past the deciding stage to the stage where actual Stuff happens.

 

I think I’ve noticed these two things about great leaders:

First, they know that the one option THEY select out of the endless options isn’t really the most important thing. They don’t get paralyzed wondering and second-guessing. They do a little analyzing and then make their best educated guess. Then they focus fully and powerfully on executing it.

Second, they often really don’t care which one option their FOLLOWERS select out of the endless options. They won’t hold your hand, they won’t give you the answer, they won’t tell you which decision they think you should make. They say, “I know you’ll make a good decision” and then they support you and have your back.

Because there will always be endless options and “getting it right” can be hopeless.

So “getting it right” must not always be the part that matters.

 

All that being said, I know there are some decisions so consequential that maybe all the soul-searching and analyzing are worth it. I just think we way overestimate how many of those decisions we see in a day. Or in a lifetime.

Good luck flipping coins!

 

And no, I haven’t really applied this lesson very well in my personal life. I still browse Netflix for an inordinate amount of time, and my show-picking hasn’t really improved. Although, maybe watching The Office for the 20th time really was the best choice all along.

Robert K Greenleaf - overchoice