Knowing your limitations

Have you ever been paralyzed by the sheer amount of options out there?

I know, it sounds like such a first world problem.

Oh, I’m not talking about what flavour of potato chip to pick (obvious choice: maple bacon) or which movie to see at the 24 screen theater (when in doubt I usual pick one I’ve already seen).

I’m referring to the idea that we are now confronted with an overwhelming amount of choices and opportunities when it comes to education and careers. It almost seem impossible to choose. Do you do what you want? What your parents tell you to do? What your peers are doing? One of the “Best Jobs” found on one of the many lists out there?

I draw my writing inspiration from many sources, and it was this post: Leaving Your Options Open Will Set You Back by Penelope Trunk that really resonated with me.  It reminded of my grandmother.

I remember her telling me that in the time and place when she was a teenager there were two options for women that wanted to work: finish high school and become a teacher or be a house cleaner. She ended up doing the later and working for a lovely family.  No regrets…she had limited options and she chose the one that made the most sense for her at that time.

Today’s new grads appear to have way more choices.  I say “appear” because the truth is that with competitive academic requirements, limited enrollment space, and narrow job prospects, the reality is that their options are not unlimited.  I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but your parents misled you – you can’t be whatever you want.  Even if you could decide.

I see it with my own kids – the pressure to find and identify with “something”.  It’s the early version of the dreaded networking question: “so what do you do for a living?”, except for them it’s: “so what do you want to do for a living? what’s your thing?”.

And for some of these kids they may have an idea, but don’t want to commit, and for others, they don’t even know where to begin to sort through all the possibilities and options.  And the advice they get:  do what you’re good at…do what you are passionate about…do what makes you happy…follow your dreams….think about what you wanted to be when you were 9-years old.

So where’s the problem?  Shouldn’t guidance like that set them on the right path?

This isn’t limited to students or new grads.  Many of the more seasoned workers are feeling the same because it isn’t enough to just have a job and do it.  There is a pressure to always be looking for more and the next opportunity (even if we don’t know what it is or even if we want it).

Don’t believe me? In your next performance review, try telling your manager: “Actually I am perfectly happy with my job – I really don’t have any desire to advance further, particularly into a managerial role.  I do not want your job.  I am content to do my work to the very best of my ability.  I will continue to grow, but only within the parameters of my position.”

Lemme know how that goes.

You see, if I were to be completely honest in answering what my “ideal job” would be, it would look like this:


I openly struggle with trying to figure out what I want to be doing.  I’ve read so many articles, blogs, and books and filled out umpteen questionnaire, quizzes, and assessments.  Each time I become frustrated and I freeze on certain questions.

Questions like: “If you won $150 million dollars in the lottery, what would you do”.

My thought process goes like this:

I don’t know……Read…Make muffins?…Plan a trip?…Laundry?

The reality is that I might sit on my sofa and just come up with lists of things that I would like to do.  The options may seem unlimited, but it’s that very factor that paralyzes me.  Too many choices.

Now if the question was: “If you won $150 million dollars in the lottery, would you:

  • Travel around the world
  • Build a new home
  • Do humanitarian work in a struggling region
  • Go on a crazy-ass shopping spree

Then I can focus on the options and even if I don’t like any of them, they provide me with a launch pad for my own ideas.

In a world that can’t seem to stop upgrading and leveling-up, it’s a challenge to keep things in focus.  There is a fear of making the wrong choice, fear of limiting yourself, fear of making a decision, fear of being obsolete even before you start.

I’m not going all dystopian and proposing that we are born into assigned roles with no options, but maybe one way of dealing with the paralysis of decision-making is to stop telling ourselves and others that the sky is the limit, because in doing so we actually plant our feet deeper in the mud.


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