Monday, October 29, 2007

Monday's new way of thinking - Barry Schwartz

I have been toying with the idea of putting themes to certain days I blog in an attempt to make sense of all these blog postings I create. I examine other blogs very closely everyday to see what they’re writing about, how they categorize their posts, etc. I’ve noticed that the ones I enjoy the most are the ones where I know what to expect. There’s a lot of this general on-line diary stuff happening in the blogosphere, though I get bored with that pretty quickly. I’d like to be more relevant than that.

I started to consider things I am most passionate about:
The creation and maintenance of happiness
Thought-provoking quotes
Green and sustainability, the environment
Relationships, etc.

If you google any on of these + blogs, hundreds will pop up. Thousands. I was worried that I may have nothing to contribute to these conversations. What do I have that would be unique or interesting or different? In a conversation via email with my friend, Dan, I realized what I could add, as well as one with my boss about a related topic, I stumbled on it. Action. I can add suggested to action to these conversations, and action, how we play out in our lives the information we take in, is always unique. It has to be because my life, examined holistically, is distinct from anyone else’s.

In going through this process, I was reminded again of a talk that Barry Schwartz, the author of a book entitled
The Paradox of Choice, gives at innovation conferences. He brings to light that all this choice we have in our society has increased our stress levels and made us less happy. He gives a multitude of examples, and at the end leaves us with the exact same sentiment he started with – more choices may intuitively lead us to believe that we can increase our happiness, though in actuality, it leaves us paralyzed.

I recently sent the link to Barry’s talk to my friend, Dan, who then wrote an email to me with the sentiment, “So what?” (said much nicer than that of course.) While it is good food for thought, what the heck do we DO about it? And that’s where I realized that writer give context to what’s happening around us. That’s my responsibility as a writer, and I have something to add here.

The “so what?” is that if the world is going to offer us limitless choices, then it is up to us to place our own boundaries in order to create happiness, satisfaction, and a sense of purpose. While I have known this for some time, it has taken me up until this moment to put the sentiment into action.

As an example, whenever someone asks me some question like, “If you had a million dollars, what would you do with it?” I freeze completely. There’s so much I want to do with it that I don’t know where to start. Buy a house? Start a business? Pay off my school loans? Donate to charity? And if I donate to a charity, which one? And if I buy a house, where? If I start a business, what field would it be in? So much choice it makes my head hurt. And then I start to think, “a million dollars is not enough, I need at least 5 million!” And the ridiculousness goes on and on.

I take a deep breathe and give myself a small haven to say, “Christa, you make X amount of dollars in salary, and you have to prioritize what you want to do.” And I begin to calm down and consider what’s really important to me. Small goals, earned one day at a time through careful planning. Making less money than a million dollars actually eases my anxiety. The constraint, in this instance, at this point in my life, ironically helps. (And this is only because I do have enough money to pay my bills and have a bit of fun, too. If I couldn't make ends meet, then of course the constraint is too confining and I have to look at ways to incraese my earnings. This is exactly one of the big reasons I went to business school.)

This also happened to me when I was trying to decide what to do with my career after business school. I was a mess when given the line, “The world is your oyster.” In actuality, it’s not, and I am so grateful for that. I will never become a surgeon, a lawyer, or an astronaut. I am too selfish with my free time to be in banking or management consulting.
I really wanted to be in retail. I wanted to live in New York. I wanted a boss who was supportive of my growth and development. A turn-around would be preferable. And if my job was in the vein of creativity and innovation that would make my day. I got exactly what I asked for in my current job – it fits all of these criteria, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

Several years ago, I was beginning to feel overwhelmed that I couldn't keep up with all my friends from every period of my life. I felt like a bad friend, a bad person. And then a co-worker of mine at the time, much older, said to me that that's okay. People will cycle in and out of your life. Some you will always keep close, others are close now because you live in the same city or have the same job, and some will appear just exactly when you need them, or vice versa. Some will fall away all together. And this pattern has proven true. There are just so many hours in a day and choosing to whom to allocate those hours is critical to our happiness. The great thing about technology, like email, these personal blogs, Facebook, is that keeping in touch and staying close is made much easier, and in many ways richer.

In terms of my blog, there are a lot of things I could write about because I’m interested in many different topics. So each day of the week, I’ll post a piece on a specific interest of mine. (And maybe other random ones will sneak in as well if I'm feeling especially prolific!) You’ll know what to expect, I’ll have more of a context to write within, and hopefully this blog will become more useful.

From the title of this post, you’ll see that Mondays will be about innovation and trend, in other words "a new way of thinking". I am very lucky in that I am learning so much at my current job and it's proving so beneficial to me that I want to share it in the hope that it inspires people the way all of this knowledge inspires me. Today in particular focuses on Barry Schwartz, an innovation and trend expert. You can see his video from the TED conference at

So while there are a dizzying amount of choices out there no matter what concept we talk about, not all of the choices pertain to you. Carve out your priorities, what really matters to you, and then evaluate options based on those priorities. You’ll be amazed by the number of choices you will have to set aside for the sake of better options, and that limiting will increase your satisfaction with the end result.

No comments: