Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Speaking of Freedom...Do We Want it All?

After July 4th, I was doing some thinking about freedom. I am filled with gratitude and awe when I think about what was sacrificed to allow me to be sitting here at Starbucks, wearing what I want to wear, writing what I want to write, with no fear of consequence (except maybe an angry reader).

But along with that gratitude, I also feel overwhelmed. I have many, in fact, that it's not exactly clear what do to next.   I actually feel guilty sometimes if I think I am not constantly maximizing the opportunities that have been presented to me. And sometimes, dare I say, I wish I didn't have so many choices.

Now, before that comment annoys you, let's talk a bit about psychology. In his Ted Talk
, Psychologist Barry Schwartz takes aim at a central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice. In Schwartz's estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.

He claims "with so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all." And, "even if we manage to overcome the paralysis and make a choice, we end up less satisfied with the result of the choice than we would be if we had fewer options to choose from." The imagined alternative reduces the satisfaction we have with the option we chose.

Wow. He couldn't have said it better. I have chosen to start my own business, working from home so I can be with my kids when I want to and set my own schedule.

But sometimes I think, gosh, would I be happier if I had chosen... be a stay at home mom and not have to worry about the business... work part-time at a company where I can leave my work at work... work full-time at a company so I can be told what's expected of me... have stayed where I was before where I would surely be a Partner by now...
...or really just about any other option that has been placed before me?

And to make it worse, we women don't do a really good job of supporting each others' choices, do we? It's almost as if to validate our own choices we have to believe that the choices others make that are different than ours are bad.

My husband's stepmother is in town. She made a comment the other day that she had been observing young women in the city, and she felt a bit sorry for them. They seemed so...busy. And I thought, yes, we ARE busy, but isn't that what we wanted?

I would never want to live in a society where my choices are made for me. I am eternally grateful and recognize how lucky I am to be able to be doing what I am now. But, the management of the choices can be exhausting, and I believe we need to see it for what it is - too many available choices can lead to dissatisfaction in the choices we've made.

We need to stop worrying about the choices we could have made, enjoy and celebrate the ones we have made – while being equally happy for our friends who make decisions different from our own. 

Let freedom ring!

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