Our generation is faced with a problem that previous generations didn’t face to quite the same extent. A result of globalization and the advent of the internet has been a mass increase in interconnectedness. Connection across nations, people, ideas and businesses has left our generation with optionality in virtually every domain—we have way more options.
Before, deciding dinner consisted of the 3 takeout spots beside your house. Now, you scroll through 100s of options on UberEats.
Before, buying a new dress consisted of the 2 dresses at the outlet store you’re in. Now, you scroll through 1000s of pieces on hundreds of stores' catalogues.
Before, you’d consider building a relationship with the 5 or 6 possible matches in your locality or friend circle. Now, you swipe through 1000s of matches on online dating sites and social media.
To be clear, I believe having options is net-positive. More options means a more competitive market, which demands the highest quality players. You’ll get the best food, dress and spouse because there’s competition. This is a positive externality of optionality, and it’s inline with how nature operates; it’s a great thing.
What’s difficult is being able to strike the right balance between exploring options and making commitments.
An increase in optionality means our decisions are more risky:
If you pick between 2 restaurants, you risk missing out on 1 restaurant.
If you pick out of 100 restaurants, you risk missing out on 99 restaurants.
What’s most interesting is our generation deals with numbers that are orders of magnitudes larger. You can garner “connection” with 1000s of people on Instagram or 10000s on TikTok.
From observation, many of us end up implicitly stunned by this volume and either:
a) shy away from making the decision
b) make multiple decisions to evade responsibility (get 2 dresses, order food from 2 places etc.)
c) make the decision but fallback on it
There’s a few things I’ve been thinking about recently.
Given the number of options we have, it’s likely there’s better out there. At first, this seems like a huge problem. How dare I settle for less than I deserve? The truth is, this is an appeal to our ego. If you’ve made a decision and determined at one point it was OK, knowing there’s “better” out there shouldn’t lower the value of what you have. In other language, being grateful for what you have is a strategy against the pitfalls of “what if” thinking. If you’re constantly concerned about there being better out there, do you think this will change when you acquire what’s better. What’s preventing you from thinking the exact same thing when you’ve gotten it?
A symptom of social media is over-inflating the options we perceive to have. Out of your 800 followers, how many of those are real, meaningful connections? When making decisions across options, it’s important to introduce a strong first filter and introduce real constraints. This helps you make the best decision, but more importantly, navigate the consequences of those decisions.
Let’s assume you’re vegetarian. 100 restaurants, 20 are vegetarian, 80 are non-vegetarian. If you pick a restaurant out of the total list, you’ll still feel the pressure of missing out on 99. If you’ve placed a strong first filter and are working amongst the set of 20, your decision is only in contention with 19 other choices.
Be real about your options—aim to reduce it’s size, not increase it.