The Paradox of Choice
Ep. 305
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In this episode, I delve into the overwhelming paradox of choice and how it affects our lives, especially in our careers. From choosing a restaurant to selecting a career path, the abundance of options can lead to decision paralysis and dissatisfaction.  But amidst this sea of options, we discover the power of limiting our focus, embracing the concept of “good enough.” By limiting choices and focusing on gratitude for what we have, we can alleviate the pressure of finding the perfect option. Join me in exploring the power of acceptance and making peace with the inevitable trade-offs in life.

Show Transcript
Hey, welcome to Lessons from a Quitter, where we believe that it is never too late to start over. No matter how much time or energy you've spent getting to where you are. If ultimately you are unfulfilled, then it is time to get out. Join me each week for both inspiration and actionable tips so that we can get you on the road to your dreams.
Hello my friends and welcome to another episode. I am so excited to have you here. If you are new here or I guess if you don't know, I created a class called The Secret to Creating a Career You Actually Love. And it's a free class that I have on my website and I know a lot of you probably don't miss it, my website. So I thought I would plug it here. If you wanna learn the three concrete steps that you need to quit burnout, figure out what you actually want and create a career that you dreamed of, you can take this class for free.
It's an hour, it's chock full advice. I'll show you the roadmap that I use with my clients. I'll tell you the biggest pitfalls to avoid when you're trying to create a meaningful career for yourself and it'll help you figure out what you should work on next. If you wanna take the class, you can go to and sign up there.
All right, how are you guys doing today? I am so excited about this topic. I've been thinking about it for a while and it's something that I see come up all the time in my coaching and so I want you to be aware of it. I think subconsciously we all understand that this is happening, but I think maybe we don't realize it is and it's the idea or this paradox of choice that we have. Now, there is a book by Barry Schwartz on this very topic.
There's also a fantastic Ted Talk by him called The Paradox of Choice. And I would highly recommend that you Google it and watch it. And I think he does a fantastic job of describing this phenomenon in more detail. But I wanna talk about it with relation to your career and what I see paralyzed so many people. So the idea, this paradox of choice, the reason it's called a paradox is because as we've gone into this industrial society industrial evolution and we've created more and more and we've come up with all these different solutions to our problems, I think for most people we would consider choice a good thing. And I think to a certain extent it absolutely is a good thing. I think there is a problem of too limited choice. So this isn't to say that like we shouldn't have choice. I think the more choice and freedom we have, the more autonomy we have, having freedom and autonomy is a very, very good thing.
And there are people still to this day in parts of the world whose problem is the opposite of what I'm gonna talk about. It's a lack of choice. And so this isn't to say one is better or one is worse, it's just simply to understand. But I think that choice is also like a pendulum and you can swing way too far, which is where we sort of are now, where the more choice we have, the less happy we are. And I guess intuitively you wouldn't think that you would think that the more choice would mean that everybody gets to find the thing that works for them and everybody gets to find what makes their particular brand of life kind of happy. The problem is that in reality, that's not how it works. And they've studied this extensively now where the more choice that is given to people, it does a number of things.
First, it causes paralysis, which I think we all have experienced, right? When you have to sign up for healthcare and you have 20 different option plans, it's very overwhelming. It's very difficult. 'cause how do you know what's the quote unquote right one, right? How do you know which one you should choose? And so we often put off really important decisions in his TED Talk. Barry Schwartz talks about how they studied this with retirement plans where when employees were given like 50 different retirement plans, they didn't choose any because it was too hard to make a decision. So they forwent getting matched by their employer getting free money for their employer, investing in their retirement because it was too hard to make a choice. And I think for a lot of us, especially if you struggle with perfectionism, if you have this belief that there is a right choice that you have to make the right choice, then it becomes even more paralyzing.
And I wanna ease your mind a little bit. For a lot of us who do feel paralyzed by a lot of choice, I want us to understand that we have more choice today than we ever have. And so you are constantly having to make choices that nobody in the history of humans ever had to make before. We are constantly having to choose where we put our attention. We are constantly having to choose what we're gonna eat for. Like back in the day there weren't that many options. Let's say in your town or if you were gonna go out to eat, there wasn't even probably that many options for takeout or whatnot. So you were gonna make food. It was just more limited. And so you got on with your life, you picked the thing that was maybe available and that's all you did. Now you have Postmates and you have DoorDash and you have literally every restaurant within like a 20 mile radius that you can choose from.
And you have grocery stores filled with food and you have all this stuff. And so every night, every day, every lunchtime when you have to decide like what am I going to eat? There's a million choices. Again, in the TED Talk, one of the interesting things that he was talking about is we all have access to being able to work all the time at any minute. And so you constantly have to make the choice of am I gonna spend the time right now watching Netflix or am I gonna work? That wasn't the case. Like back in the day when you left the office, you left the office and there was no choice to work anymore. So when you were at home, you didn't have to constantly revisit this question. But I want you to think about how much mental energy it takes up when you constantly have to reexamine and recho ec decide, what do I do now?
I did this for an hour. Every hour, every 30 minutes, every 10 minutes, my brain is gonna keep being like, well, should we work again? Should we check the email? Should I respond to the email now should I start on that presentation? Should I, you know, and so this is why learning how to make decisions is really important. This is why like knowing how to say like No, I don't work past six o'clock as a boundary for myself, not just so that I don't work. So I don't spend the mental energy constantly deciding this so that I can move on. Like these are my hours, this is how I interact with my work. This is when I respond to emails. I'm making those boundaries for me because those boundaries don't exist anymore. And when I'm left with this many choices, it makes me paralyzed. I don't know what I should do because I don't know what the quote unquote right thing to do is, right?
And so the first thing is that we have a very hard time making a choice. We have a very hard time even with really small things like where should we go to eat? Well there's so many restaurants. I don't know if I only had two choices. Maybe it would be easier if I was gonna pick between pizza and sushi. Maybe I'd know what I want but I can have Greek food and kebabs and falafels and Chinese food and all these other things. It's like, I don't know, they all sound good. So I'm gonna keep spinning and spinning and then that's gonna be one of a million other decisions I have to make today. And we're all so exhausted by making decisions. The other thing that happens outside of becoming paralyzed is that we are less happy with the decisions we make. So this is where the paradox of choice comes in is that we believe that the more choice we have, the happier we will be because I can find the thing that fits me.
But what actually happens in actuality is that we end up less happy with whatever we choose because there is more possibility of like thinking about what we gave up, right? There is more regret because there was so many other possibilities. So when I pick a restaurant and I pick sushi, if I was between sushi and pizza, that was all that was in my town and I picked sushi, I could be really happy with that choice because I know pizza makes me feel super heavy and not good afterwards. And I knew I had to get a stomach ache and the sushi was pretty good, right? Done and done. But if I picked sushi and it was mediocre and I knew I could have picked Greek food or Chinese food or Italian food or Mexican food or all this other stuff, I can constantly then blame myself like why did I pick this?
Everybody's probably mad. I shouldn't have picked this. I always know that this place isn't that good, right? Like we start berating ourselves and they've done studies of this where they give people like a choice of between two jellies or they're, they can buy like 10 jellies at the store. And the rate of satisfaction is always less when there is more choice. Because you think about the opportunity cost of what did I give up in order to choose this thing instead of just being happy with the thing I chose, your expectation for what it should be goes up. And so you're less satisfied with the result. You start comparing what you got to what you think you should have gotten. You think it should be the best thing. You think you should feel fantastic. You know like the meal should have been the best in the world.
The clothes you buy should fit the best because there's so much choice. Think about that. Like think about when you go shopping, think about how overwhelming it is shopping now because there's a million different stores to look at online. Like back in the day it was you go to the mall and that's what you have available to you. And even within that, like if we go, this is even before my time, like back in the day it's like there was a couple of brands, you had a couple of choices of like jeans and a couple of choices of there wasn't what we have today. Now it's like you can get boutiques all over the world and you can get fast fashion from China and you can get more expenses and you, it's so overwhelming because you're like, do I keep looking? And with everything I look at, well it doesn't quite fit and it isn't quite what I wanted.
And so we're all becoming less happy, right? And the fascinating thing which I see a lot of is he talks about how also it results in a lot of self blame because when there's only one choice out there, there's nothing I can do about it, right? If I work in a a city or a small town and the only options for employment are like two places, it is what it is. I don't have really another option like I have to do this job, right? Which was really the way that it was for most of human history. Again, not to say that that is also a good thing. It's not to say that like you should be stuck just working in a factory and you should be happy with it. But when we have so many options, we then blame ourselves 'cause it's not other people's fault.
There's a million other things we blame ourselves like why did I choose this major? Why did I go into this field? I don't even like this. How was I supposed to know? Right? There's a million other things I can do. And so it becomes a lot of I can't make good decisions. And what I want you as all to really take away from is the fact that like we are so overwhelmed with decisions, it is not our own fault. It is exhausting to make this many decisions all the time. Like from the brand of toothpaste you have to buy to the healthcare that you have to sign up for to the your kids' summer camps, to the IRA plan you're gonna use to the home insurance. It's just on and on. And I think for so many of us, we are just exhausted because we don't know because there is no right decision and we're constantly left with this like feeling of maybe I made the wrong choice.
I also ran into this thing called seagull's law and it says A man with a watch knows the time. A man with two watches is never sure. And it's just so poignant to really understand that like when it is limited, you can have more confidence in the fact of like this is, I don't know, whatever terminology, this is what I'm supposed to be doing or this is all there is. Or like I can make myself happy with this when there is so much more choice. There's always like, I don't know, is this right? Should I be doing this? Should I do the other thing? Should I go, should I stay? And I see this clearly so much with careers by the way we see this everywhere. I was actually just thinking like as we are thinking about this, like how much dating apps have probably changed this dynamic.
Again, not to say that choice isn't a good thing in the partner that you pick, right? It's not to say that like when it was arranged marriages it's better 'cause you just get stuck with somebody. But there is something very fundamentally wrong with the fact that you have so many people at your fingertips to keep swiping that it becomes very easy to never be happy with a choice to think well there might be something better. Well I don't like this part of this person or I don't like how they answered this or whatnot. If it's not a hundred percent great, I can just move on and swipe to the next person. I was with my husband before dating apps came out. So I've never personally experienced it, but I can imagine. And from my friends that are on it and from people I, I can imagine that it is almost impossible to narrow down the choice because before you would only have access to the people that were around you physically, right?
Like people in your very immediate networks, maybe at the local bars, those kind of places. And now it's like shoot, I can go like a hundred mile radius, I could drive that, right? And it just opens up to so much more choice, which ultimately makes it so much harder to make that choice. Now getting to careers, obviously for a lot of us this is what is the most paralyzing and this is what I see all the time And for a lot of my clients and a lot of people I work with, this kind of paralyzing, crushing thought is, well I don't know what's out there because there's a million jobs out there and there are millions and they're constantly, we're creating new ones. As technology advances, new industries are popping up and how could you ever know what's gonna be the perfect one for you?
And I see so many people completely frozen and stuck year after year, decade after decade because they don't want to make the quote unquote wrong move or they don't want to go in any direction because how can they know if this next decision is the right one? And I see so many people who have an idea like, I really like this. I really think I would like this industry. But I don't know. I don't know what else is out there. Maybe I should keep looking, maybe I should keep exploring. And I'm, it's not to say that you shouldn't have exploration, like I definitely encourage my people to explore and give themselves time to really understand who they are and what they want. But I want you to be aware, the reason I bring these to your attention, the reason I do podcast episodes about this stuff is because uh, it's not that we're gonna overcome these kind of paradoxes or the way that your brain works, but the more aware you become of it, the more you can catch your brain in this spin cycle, right?
Part of like as an example we've talked about like the sunk cost fallacy. When you know that what, that's how you make decisions where your brain is holding onto something because of the sunk cost that you've invested time and energy. So you don't wanna let it go. It's easier when you're making that calculation to notice that and be like, this is what I'm doing. Yes, that is a sunk cost but I wanna like move on with my life. It's easier to overcome. It's the same thing with this, the solution to this in my mind, in my belief, you can feel free to believe whatever you want. And I think Barry Schwartz and and the other psychologists, all of them maybe have different takes on this. But when I hear this stuff, I don't think that the solution is to limit choices. I think that the cat's outta a bag at this point.
Like I don't think that you can, we can do that. I think the way that our society is there's just gonna be an infinite amount of choices at this point and there's gonna be more and more. And I don't think that's necessarily a wrong thing. I do think we take it too far who needs like a hundred salad dressing choices. But it's not that I think that we should all limit our choices. I think that you need to limit your focus to from what you didn't choose. So what I mean by that is I think that you have to be aware that this is what your brain's gonna do. I think you have to be very conscious of the fact of like of course there is infinite possibilities for what I do for a career. There's hundreds and thousands of choices and I will never know all of the choices and I will never know what the right one is.
And there is no right one, there is tons and tons of things I could do and yet I wanna take a step forward, right? So I'm gonna limit my own choices and I'm gonna decide like for what I know now, like this seems like a pretty good path and I'm gonna focus on that. And what I mean by that is I'm gonna focus on that and stop focusing on everything I gave up. I think for a lot of us, what's this adage of like the grass is greener where you water it but it truly is like if I'm constantly looking at like the grass is greener over there, everybody else has something better like oh this is okay, but look at what that person has. I will always be unhappy if I start looking at like how is the grass green here? What is great about this if I'm choosing this, like there is a time and place for exploring and then there's gonna be a time where I have to make a decision, right?
I can know that my brain is gonna put me in this paralysis 'cause it's gonna tell me it's too hard and it's overwhelming and it's not the right choice. And I have to know that and still make a choice. I have to decide like hey, I'm gonna pick a retirement plan even if it's not the perfect one. Even if there's one better and I'm not gonna think about it anymore. I'm not gonna weigh whether I would've made a little bit more money in that reti. This is good enough. This like standard of good enoughness can really set you free. Like when you don't need perfect, when you don't need the best choice, when you don't need the best outcome. But it's like could this be good enough for now? It can truly set you free. And I think about it with myself, like right now doing all this work, there's obviously there's hundreds, but like I can like off the top of my head think of 10 different careers I could do right now that I would love that there's things that I've explored, there's things that I'm like oh my God, I would love to get a chance to try to be that if I wasn't doing this, maybe when I start over I would've done that.
I wish I had gone into those fields. There's things that as I have discovered more about myself, I know I would love doing and I think could have been so cool and could have been such a cool path. And who knows, maybe at some point I'll do some of 'em and likely I definitely won't do all 10. There's gonna be likely some that I never pursue and I'm okay with that. And the fascinating thing is like I think the reason I love what I do so much is because I just focus on the fact that I love what I do. I focus on what is good at what I'm doing. Not everything I'm missing out on. Not telling myself like, well yeah this is good but I could be making so much more if I was doing this or I could be having more impact if I was doing this.
Or it is more fulfilling if I'm doing that or am I really helping enough people, I could be helping more people if I did this. It's like hey, this is the chapter right now and this is pretty freaking awesome and I like this and it's teaching me a lot and I get a lot of fulfillment out of it. And I feel like the more I've done that, the happier I've become. And you know in the last week's episode it was a replay of like not finding a passion or not needing to find your purpose. And I've realized this that like in limiting this kind of focus that I have and really like focusing on being grateful for what I do have and what I love about this and like I've created a purpose or a passion for myself simply 'cause I just chose to like my thoughts about it are just that that like I find a lot of purpose in what I do not because like there is some stamp of approval from the universe that tells me like, oh this is your purpose or this is what you should be doing or this was the right choice, this is what you were meant to do.
All of that stuff in my mind is BS 'cause there's a million other things I could do and I could find purpose in them and I could find passion in them and they could be great but it it's simply because I chose to do them and I am choosing to do this. So I'm choosing to make myself happy here. And I think that there's this balance right between knowing like when it's time to move on or when it's something that doesn't fit me and when it's I'm just constantly looking at what I'm missing. I'm constantly looking at where it could be better. And I think part of this is our society's obsession with like happiness and this idea that there is some place that you're gonna be happy all the time. Which is why I do think that the most like liberating concept I have ever learned is that life is 50 50 is that no matter where you go it will be 50 50 no matter what you choose, it will be 50 50.
There will always be good and bad emotions. There will always be negative emotions. It doesn't matter how rich you become, how successful you become, how pretty you become. Whatever it is every human being. You cannot escape that human experience of negative emotion. And so you have to stop searching for something that's going to relieve you from that experience. That is not the marker of whether that thing is good enough. It is not like do I find a job where I'm happy all the time and I never have a bad day and I never like hate any part of it? 'cause that's when I'll know I found the perfect job. That's my passion. You will look forever and you will never find that. When I started really understanding like, oh, everything is gonna be good and bad. Even the things that I love, even the things that I'm super passionate about, it's gonna have a bunch of crap I don't like about it.
And that's okay. When I started really accepting that it became easier to stop seeking something that doesn't exist to stop seeking another choice that would maybe make me a little incrementally happier. And so I just say this to you because I want you to really be aware of this. I want you to be aware of how paralyzed you get because you believe that like there is some right choice out there amongst the millions of decisions and choices that you have. And how can you start thinking more about like what if limiting my choice is actually what is going to be the most helpful?
What if being okay with good enough is better than finding the best choice? Where can I make a decision and just let it be good enough and not think about it again? Right? You can practice this with, like I said, you make a million decisions every day. Pick any choice, right? When you are um, confronted with something that has a lot of, when you go to the supermarket to buy stuff, when you go to buy clothes, when you go to pick the restaurant you want to eat at, when you decide how you how to spend your time tonight, there's a million things you could do. Limit it for yourself and then choose and be happy with that. Be present with that instead of constantly like while you're doing one thing, thinking about oh maybe I should be doing something else. This is a muscle that you can start developing as we've talked about, like I've done a lot of episodes on decision making and part of learning how to make decisions is cutting off other options and being okay with that.
Part of the reason for so many of us that we have a hard time making decisions is we're not okay with cutting off the options. We wanna hold onto all the options so then we don't ever make any decision and learning to cut it off and be okay and say like, that's fine. Yeah, there was 10 choices, I picked this, I'm happy with this. These are all the reasons why this is a good choice. It doesn't matter if those other ones are good. It doesn't matter if they're in incre incrementally better. Like if this was a seven and something else would've been an eight, I'm okay with a seven. Instead of making myself miserable over, why didn't you pick the eight? There's probably something that was even better than this, right? Like what if I could just give up the idea that it needs to be the best ever and I could be happy with what it is.
For so many of you that are stuck in your careers, I think that this is the concept that you really need to practice and work on because the amount of choice in careers will keep you stuck for the rest of your life. It'll keep you stuck where you already know you don't wanna be. And so part of the decision, and I think next week I'm gonna do another episode on how to just get started when you don't know what you wanna do. Because learning how to do that in the face of a million choices is the skill that you need in order to get yourself to stop spinning. Getting yourself to just get started so you can learn more about yourself and figure out what you want and be happy with that is the only way to ever change your career. If you're waiting until you know the right choice or the choice that's gonna be the best, that's gonna make you the most happy, you'll never have that decision.
'cause there's too much choice and there's no way for you to know which one is gonna be the best and there's not enough time in the world to explore all of them. So what if good enough was just good enough? So I'll leave you with that for this week. I want you to just think about all of the choices that you're making as you're going through your day and you're presented with a choice. I want you to trust yourself to just make that choice and then get to work on being happy with that choice. Instead of thinking about what you gave up or thinking about how you should have chosen something else or thinking about how someone else would've made a be better decision. I want you to just have your own back like this was good enough and see how light it could be to just move on to realize that you're gonna make a million more choices the next day. And that every, you don't have to hit it outta the park each time.
I feel like that is how we come back to ourselves and our happiness with our lives, knowing that of course we're giving up stuff every day in order to make the choices we're making. And it's good enough. And good enough can be so freaking beautiful when you stop searching for that perfection. I hope this helps you as you move through your day and make a million more choices. And if you need help with the choice of your career, and if you need help figuring out what that step is gonna be so that you don't spin all the time, I want you to join me in the Quitter Club 'cause this is what I coach you through. You can get on the waitlist for when we open the doors next. You can go to and join us in the membership where we coach on topics like this. And I help you learn how to make decisions so that you aren't paralyzed in this paradox of choice, um, over and over again. All right, my friends, I hope this was helpful and I will see you next week for another episode.
Hey, if you are looking for more in-depth help with your career, whether that's dealing with all of the stress, worry, and anxiety that's leading to burnout in your current career or figuring out what your dream career is and actually going after it, I want you to join me in the Quitter Club. It is where we quit what is no longer working like perfectionism, people pleasing imposter syndrome, and we start working on what does and we start taking action towards the career and the life that you actually want. We will take the concepts that we talk about on the podcast and apply them to your life and you will get the coaching tools and support that you need to actually make some real change. So go to and get on the waitlist. Doors are closed right now, but they will be open soon.