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

3 Unique Suggestions for Connecting Deeply

One-on-one. A group of friends. An audience watching you on stage. Whatever the context–truly, deeply connecting is the key to making a difference, to getting your message across, to building trust, to leaving a lasting impression, to inspiring good.

And I don’t think the ingredients in genuine connection differ too much from context to context.

So how DO you truly connect?

These aren’t the “top 3 ways.” There are lots of top 3 ways. But here are 3 ways that I found EXTREMELY useful in crafting a recent speech for my Toastmasters club:

1. Don’t describe your history. Use stories that give them the chance to feel your history.

Stories are said to increase your audience’s memory by twenty-two times what they’ll retain from the rest of your words. Stories are powerful.

I think where we can go wrong with stories, though, is telling people everything we think about our stories–how we felt about them, how we understood them, how everything fit in. Those aren’t bad things, but they’re not what’s memorable. What’s memorable–what really connects–is taking your audience’s hand and walking them through the story for themselves. It’s okay if they fill the story in with a few different colors and shapes than you. Let their imagination do its thing. All you need to do is put the audience right there. To put them through the experience as bluntly as you can.

I will understand you far better by reliving a couple crazy moments from your childhood than by hearing all the philosophizing you want to do about it all.

2. Get weirdly specific.

I wish I could take credit for this idea. I have learned to use it a lot, but I learned its value from an interview with a comedian. I’m pretty sure it was John Mulaney. Might have been Mike Birbiglia. It may have been John Mulaney talking about what he learned from Mike Birbiglia–who knows. Either way, here’s the gist: It’s easy to assume that the more broadly shared your experiences, the more people will get you. Well actually, it turns out that people get realness, not generic-ness. Even if their real was a little different than yours–they can feel your realness. People’s own lives aren’t generic, they’re extremely specific. So get very, super, weirdly specific.

For example: “When I was 18 I used to covertly bypass our burglar alarm at night so that I could sneak out later to take walks . . . alone . . . in the dark . . . in my trench coat.”

I could have told you all about how sheltered I felt my childhood was, the lack of freedom I felt, my desperation to get away, my loneliness and what a lifesaver my loneliness actually was to me, my fear and my need to keep my deepest needs sacred, my imagination and its strangely confident sense of my cool self, and the future version of me I expected to be. But those are ideas–concepts–concepts you may have experienced in your own ways in your own life. And making you listen while I analyze all those ideas through my own lenses requires a lot of attention. It requires a lot of you accepting and translating my interpretations. I don’t need to do all that work with you. And you may not have the time or patience. Instead, I can just give you a few really weird details. Details that make you go, “Oh yeah, I also have a weird life,” and then leaves your imagination filling in the blanks in my story. “What kind of kid wears a trench coat?”

3. Make it a roller coaster.

Don’t stay funny. Don’t stay happy. Don’t stay sad. Don’t stay serious. Don’t stay positive. Don’t stay hopeful. Don’t stay negative. Don’t stay bitter.

Life is a roller coaster. A crazy, spicy, ridiculous roller coaster.

Emotional roller coasters get people right in the feels. And getting people right in the feels is what sticks with them.

So lift your audience up. Then dash their hopes. Then show them the beauty in the ashes.

I bet that is an experience they can relate to.

Good luck!

Let’s use our stories to inspire hope and love in each other every chance we get. We’re all in this together!

Jimmy Neil Smith - connection of storytelling

Blogging 101: 3 Do’s & Don’ts

“Ouch…”

The ominous title to one of my first ever blog posts.

“Tried to barehand a flyball today. Worst case scenario: Root canal.”

Another gem from 14-year-old-blogger-me:

“Does anybody want to buy me a package of two-hundred fifty-three thousand four-hundred and twenty-nine glow in the dark frisbee’s? I’d be much obliged. I can’t even begin to describe how much I would love that many glow-frisbees!”

You’re welcome, World, for sharing the dorky ambitions and random words of wisdom that only a 14-year-old could share. A few nights ago, I stumbled upon my oooold blog, hidden in the nether regions of the internet. I promise you, you will never find it. Thank God.

 

I’ve been blogging since I was a kid. Unfortunately.

On a more serious note, I’ve been writing on this blog for the last several years and have taken blogging seriously as a skill worth learning as well as I can. I write about anything and everything I’ve learned–at work, in my personal life, about communication, about motivation–anything that may be of a little help to someone else walking their own path in this journey we call life.

I’ve grown to really appreciate blogging and to wish that more people would try it. I see two big reasons for people to blog:

 

For other people.

Sure, there’s already a lot of noise out there. So many blogs, articles, opinions. Why would you want to add to it?

The truth is, you really don’t know who your unique way of seeing and saying things may help.

You have had a rich life full of all kinds of experiences, good and bad. You’ve learned from things you’ve seen, heard, and done. You have a lot more wisdom to share than you may think. And every day, others are muddling their way through the same complicated, confusing, challenging life things you have. Or maybe it’s not as deep as all that. Maybe somebody just needs help deciding which new pair of hiking shoes to buy. Can you help with that?

And even if these people find someone else who has learned the same lessons you have and has put it down in words for them, maybe those words weren’t spoken in the unique way that would resonate. Maybe that writer’s perspective isn’t quite what these people need. Maybe your unique experiences and emotions are what will make those lessons click for some.

And even if these people have already found an answer to their questions that resonated–even if they already know–they may still need to hear the lesson said again and again and again and again and again. We’re strange creatures. Sometimes we need to hear what we already know to remember it. Sometimes we just need a little inspiration.

“Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again.” – Andre Gide

So don’t be afraid to increase the volume of kind, positive wisdom in this world. We’re all in this together.

 

For yourself.

I think the writer may get more out of the practice of blogging than any reader ever will.

Writing–especially what’s deep in your heart–is an incredibly freeing and therapeutic experience. Try it and see for yourself.

As you put down in words the things you feel deeply and believe deeply, what you care passionately about and what you desire, and the ideas you most want to help others find–as you put these down in words, your thoughts become clearer, your convictions become stronger, and your ideas become more concrete. The practice of thinking and talking through something analytically, searching for the right language to use, is incredibly educational and thought-provoking. Writing is one of the best ways to learn.

And then, after you’ve written for a few years–after you’ve written to help others, written to feel freedom and healing, written to gain clarity and understanding–you look back and realize that your blog is really a journal as much as it is anything. How rewarding to look back and see how your thoughts and cares have developed over time with the turns your life has taken! And best of all, every now and then you will stumble across some of your own words of wisdom: Words you had forgotten, but that you desperately needed to remember on this exact day.

Bonus benefit: If you’re ever in a situation where there’s a need or an opportunity for someone to give a last minute presentation of any nature–inspirational, instructional, etc–having tons of your own prepared presentations at your fingertips is a lifesaver!

 

So why don’t you try blogging?

If you were to give blogging a go, what would you write about? What lessons have you learned in the last year? What do you care most deeply about in life? What have you struggled with? What has made you ecstatically happy?

If you’re ready, there are plenty of places to get started easily and without paying a cent. I use wordpress.com. You can create a blog free and start writing. And if you’re feeling nervous, they’ll let you hide your blog so you can give it a shot without any prying eyes.

What if you don’t know what to write about? What your big message will be? What your topic of expertise will be? That’s okay. Just write what you’re thinking about today, what you learned this year, what you want next year, and what you believe most strongly. What do you wish you could help the world to know? Just start writing. Or maybe write about your hiking shoes.

 

When you’re ready to give blogging a try, here are 3 Do’s and 3 Don’ts that I’ve learned (the hard way) in my experience as a blogger. Let’s start with what not to do.

 

DON’T . . .

. . . try to blog perfectly.

You never will. If you wait till you can do it perfectly, you’ll never publish a single post. Besides, sometimes you’ll think you’ve written your best piece and it won’t resonate with anyone. And then you’ll write one you just think is weak and poorly written, and you’ll be surprised to discover it spoke deeply to lots of readers. Your “best” will sometimes be your worst, and your “worst” will often be your best. So don’t try to blog perfectly.

. . . try to keep everyone happy.

You can’t. You have so many strong, genuine, deeply caring messages inside of you to give. So many ideas and experiences that could help others. But every one of those messages is going to piss someone off. It’s okay. You have to be okay with it. If you try to keep everyone happy, you’ll water down everything you write until your words don’t help anybody. (And then someone will still be displeased with you for being a people-pleaser.)

. . . be embarrassed.

Eventually, you’ll look back at a post you wrote a long time ago and you won’t like it. Your face will go beet-red, like mine always does. You’ll cringe and shake your head and panic a little. “I can’t believe I shared this with the world! This is awful! What was I thinking?” And then you’ll realize that everything is okay and that life went on. That’s a good moment to experience.

 

DO . . .

. . . write from your heart.

I know this is so cliche. But I think it’s the strongest and best advice anyone can possibly give. Even if it’s not blogging–maybe you’re a writer, a speaker, a leader, or an influencer of any kind. Be genuine! People can tell. And when you truly speak your honest and passionate message from deep down inside of you, that will connect with people.

. . . promote yourself.

It’s as simple as this: If you want to talk to people, tell them. Let the world know you’re hear to say something. It just might listen. There’s no shame in asking to be heard.

. . . keep writing.

You’ll probably feel like a fraud. It’s a thing. Whether you’re an occasional writer, a hobby blogger, or you make a career of it–you’ll feel like you’re not good enough, not committed enough, and that people won’t take you seriously. Especially early on. You’ll feel self-conscious as you look at how little you’ve done. You’ll feel embarrassed that you only post once or twice a month, that it’s sporadic, or that you’ve lost touch with it for a time. That’s okay. Write another post. And then another. Just keep writing. Baby steps. It’s amazing how a few pieces written here and there add up over several years. Suddenly you’ll turn around and see behind you a hundred posts you’ve written. Words that may have helped countless people along the way and may still help others. Words that have helped you already and will help you again. Just keep writing.

 

Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite writers, said this. And it’s one of my favorite things ever said about being a creator. Whether you blog, write, speak, record a podcast, whatever you do…

“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.” – Neil Gaiman

I hope you share your message with the world. Blogging may be just the way to do it. What do you think? Will you give blogging a try?

If you already are, good luck and keep up the good work! :)

 

I recently presented this material as a Toastmasters speech entitled Blogging 101. At the end of it, I held a Q&A session to further the discussion about what blogging looks like–for me and for others. A few of the questions prompted some great conversation. I’m sharing them here in case it helps.

Q: Is there anything you WON’T write or post about publicly? Anything you wouldn’t want people from work to see? Anything that’s too personal?
A: Not much anymore. There used to be a lot. And then I learned the lesson that a very wise friend of mine once put into words: “People connect at the level of their struggles.” We’re all in this together. If anything, I’m happy to help everyone see that being real is okay.

Q: CAN you decide who gets to see what you write? Can you keep certain people from seeing it?
A: Yes. You can make a blog totally private, so that nobody but you can access it. You can share it with a few certain people so that only they can access it. You can change its search settings such that it’s easy to share but people won’t find it just by searching the internet. Some people who make money by writing valuable content will have their blog set up so that only people who have paid for subscriptions or who have used another related program can access the blog. All kinds of options!

Q: With so many opinions out there, how can you trust that the information you’re getting from a blog is accurate? Like someone’s review of a product?
A: Great question! First of all, there’s no guarantee. You use your best judgment. But a couple helpful ideas: First, if you’re looking for specific information, like feedback or tips on traveling to a certain destination or on which product to buy, does the review or blog you’re reading seem to match the feedback of others? If almost everyone agrees, that tells you something. Second, one of the advantages to blogs is that they’re typically independent. Sure, some bloggers are being paid by the company whose product or service they’re recommending. Generally, they’ll have to disclose this somewhere. But you’ll also find lots of independent third party bloggers who are just writing their own real experiences. If anything, these are more helpful than advertisements and biased info you’ll get on a company’s own website.

Q: Can you blog under a pen name?
A: Yes! Absolutely! You can do that forever, or you can do it to help you get started if you’re nervous.

I’d love to know your answers to these questions! And I’d love to hear if there are any other questions or thoughts you’d like to share.

 

If you are a writer, or are interested in writing, or just like reading about writing, check out My 100th Blog Post: A Few Thoughts About Writing.

Neil Gaiman - As Only You Can

“Come See Me in My Office”

The dreaded invitation.

“Come see me in my office.”

When you’re the one inviting, here are a few truths to remember…

  • Your employee didn’t wake up this morning intending to make life miserable for you or anyone else.
  • Your employee is trying. If not, there’s a much deeper problem that’s been simmering for a long time.
  • Your employee is probably very nervous or afraid.
  • Your employee will definitely feel misunderstood and possibly bullied.
  • Your employee almost certainly will not say most of what he’s really thinking.
  • Your employee really wants some encouragement after a tough conversation.

And here are a few things to try…

  • Start things off with a less scary invitation: “Do you have a few minutes? I’d like to go over some stuff with you.”
  • Visit your employee in their own office where they’re comfortable.
  • If you need to close the door, tell them it’s because you want both of you to be able to speak freely with each other without having to worry about what anyone else thinks.
  • Show your employee honor by genuinely allowing that their motivations could be very good. Honestly try to understand your employee (they’ll know).
  • Make it a two way conversation. Ask them what their take on the issue is, what factors are causing it, and how you can help.
  • Tell them how much you appreciate them.
  • Ask them for feedback.
  • End on a positive note. Smile. Be truly excited to help each other make things even better!

Unless, of course, you really are just trying to kick them rudely out the door. In which case, you may be the problem…