Too many choices

June 25, 2015

inhale futureIn the airport the other day I got a little pang of–was it regret?– as I watched business travelers 20 or so years younger than me tote their briefcases, check their email, talk on their cellphones about products, meetings, concepts.  Those days of purposeful business travel are over for me, but I remember them well.

The things that were important and set the boundaries of my day-to- day life –clients, new business, bosses, colleagues–have no relevance to this life I lead now as a retiree.

Most of us plan for retirement, right? We set an approximate date and work toward it, saving money and listing the things we’ll do once we have an abundance of free time. Oh, to not be limited by work!

But that’s not what happened to me. When I “retired” in 2009, it was unexpected.  My first and last husband (yes there were a couple in the middle) looked up one day and said, “You know, you don’t have to work.”

Seriously_It stopped me short. I’d always worked. I figured I’d work another five or six years, maybe create my own business and keep going until I couldn’t. I planned to give up my consulting job soon, but figured I’d do something else. I’d have to, to keep making money. The idea that I didn’t “have” to had never occurred to me.

For more than a dozen years I’d had a consulting job and during most of them, I’d loved it. But the thrill had gone and so had my illusions about what had become a Crazytown. I knew it was past time for me to leave. It took me about five minutes to write my resignation letter. No regrets, either.

The second thing out of my husband’s mouth was, “if you leave consulting, you could just teach college part-time.”  He knew how much I loved my adjunct teaching and retirement would free me to teach more courses per semester. Adjunct professor pay is notoriously paltry and he knew that. But he also knew how much I loved teaching college courses and he paved the way for me to do more of it.

Once we moved to California, I taught again, at a different school. That, also, was fun, for a while. And then, I knew that I was done teaching, at least in this life.

So many of my cohort are still working because they must and I know that could be me. It WAS me. And I’m grateful that my  husband has made it possible for me to live unshackled to a paycheck.   I don’t really miss it. Well, I do miss making money but not the steady grind that jobs become after a while.

Still, when I see business travelers in airports I do feel a pang of nostalgia for those days when I, too, was going from one city to the next on productive business. When I worked full time, I did it to support myself. I had to. My choices were limited by that necessity, but I never looked on it as a limitation, just “the way things are.”

Now, my future is entirely in my own hands. I am free to create and recreate myself every single day, and while it sounds great, having so many options can be confusing. Sometimes it feels like I have a bit of ADD: lots of ideas, nothing sticks for very long. Here’s what I have noticed: All those options can create a little anxiety or can even paralyze us.

012014bucks-carl-sketch-master675So I did a little research on choice in our world today. Because we’ve never had as many options in front of us as we have today. All kinds of options.

Here’s what I discovered:

Too many choices can be confusing,  American psychologist Barry Schwartz pointed out in a 2006 book about consumers. He called it “the paradox of choice,” saying that we had more choice now than ever before, but we didn’t seem to benefit from that, at least not psychologically. He pointed out that eliminating some of that choice eliminated consumer anxiety. I think that same concept applies to life.

Too much choice has not benefited me. But that’s where I’m at. Stuck.

I’m thinking I know what my next act is if I can get off my ass and do it.  But, do I really want to do it? Or is the status quo ok with me?

I’m not sure.

Carol…. inhale the future and exhale the past.


9 comments on “Too many choices
  1. What a lovely stage of life to be in – so many choices, so little time….. I hope you find something that takes your fancy and keeps you engaged. I love the “inhale the future” quote too. I’m all for more time and the freedom to do (or not do) what you like 🙂

  2. Donna says:

    inhale the future, exhale the past!!! So freeing and sooooo healthy…..

  3. Jennifer says:

    WOW Carol, this struck a cord! I’ve got the same ADD feeling. Too many options can be paralyzing for me.
    How about meeting for lunch one day soon?

  4. Hi Carol! It seems you are walking that razors edge again. While it certainly can be uncomfortable it is also an equally thrilling place to be. So much possibility! As they say….” The pathway to salvation is as narrow and as difficult to walk as a razor’s edge.” Thankfully we all get to read along as you choose your next step. ~Kathy

  5. Amy says:

    I have similar feelings. Sometimes I find it difficult to figure out what I really want to do. I love so many things, and have so many choices. It can drive me a bit crazy. I love the quote, “Inhale the future, exhale the past!” Brilliant! I also think we should inhale the now, too. Be an active participant in life, but also let what happens happen. Enjoy it. Hold our breath a bit in the now while inhaling and exhaling.

  6. penpen says:

    what an interesting way to look at what’s happening in my life. I now work part-time from a home office. I get all my contract work done lickety-split. no problem putting things in priority order. but when it comes to the rest of my time–the time when I’m working on my blog, a book, some essays, other writing–I fritter time away. I thought it was lack of deadlines, but now I see: Too many choices! thanks for the help in clarifying the mystery of why I’m not getting anything done.

  7. I am working towards writing full time and giving up my day job. It will feel like retirement.

  8. We all are meant to work, I think. It defines us in so many ways, whether it’s paid work or volunteering or caretaking. Just because we’re “meant” to, though, doesn’t make it easy to figure out how and what and when and such. Yes, far too many options! Good luck deciding what… or if…!

  9. Lisa Froman says:

    One of the lines I like in the Tao Te Ching asks this: Do you have the strength to do nothing until the mud settles?
    Sometimes being stuck is a good thing. Sometimes it’s a pause, a chance to catch your breath. Figure things out.

    I spend a lot of time waiting for the mud to clear myself. Sometimes it is good, but sometimes it is uncomfortable too. Like right now I feel kind of restless.

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