Options, jeans, and ‘the paradox of choice’

‘Even if we manage to overcome the paralysis and make a choice, we end up less satisfied with the choice than we would be if we had fewer options.’

Barry Schwartz’s “The Paradox of Choice” TED talk came up with me and an acquaintance connecting after a long stretch of time, and across the world. S P A C E makes space for us to do this. I mentioned it as it seemed like something that fit with the flow of our discussions on different options we have in life (real, perceived, and the mixture thereof) and how we interpret our decisions, or something along those lines, it’s such a big topic and so subjective, I’m not sure what I was even saying as I rambled a bit about the work to describe one’s “identity” when designing “brand identity” and other things that relate to deep thinking and perspective-taking on the uniquely complex subject of, “What if?”


‘Which pants should I buy?’

I really like how Schwartz talks about the jeans thing, in this talk. It’s probably hard for some people to relate to the idea but I was there when there was just one kind of jeans, too, and it was so much simpler.

Regrets are easy to see where I am in Southeast Asia, all around me. People are debating all their options, and obsessing. Young kids have to think way, way more about everything than I did at their age. Did I need to have a computer in my pocket? No. Did I have to think about what message would be sent if I did not reply to a notification? Not at all. Actually I still don’t. I don’t have a smartphone.

I remember this from my time in Ho Chi Minh City, too. So many young people feeling like they could be doing something else. They have these ideas that they should be moving towards a partner, house, children, and the good life. There’s something beyond the horizon and there’s nothing right here, except work, work at hand, because “you need to think about your future.”

We debated this often, me and the handful of people whose conversations with me tended to linger, especially when we had time on their days off, when we were in the Atelier S P A C E zones of discovering, in the third place, what makes life worth living. Project Epicurus, Project Now, The Way, and more… philosophy. These were the kinds of topics that we got into. But identity design starts with thinking about these things, I think. What makes sense for me and what feels most like me? It takes time to do this big work to uncover it, but it feels great when you get there. Because it makes so much sense.

But my personal philosophy relates to this kind of relaxed idea that if you don’t really overthink it, and you trust you’ve made an honest effort to learn about a lot of things before choosing any one thing (and not dwelling too much in this process), you can enjoy your choices and engage with them. This is coming out very positively, here. I haven’t always been this chipper about it. The work of identity, re-defining it many times over in a lifetime, necessarily involves visiting one’s personal choices and thinking about them, and wondering if we would have done things differently, because we are not all zen masters and this is natural. Still, and all, I do feel like there’s something to be said about actually letting go of that which we opted away from. Not living in the United States for these last ten years has been one of the biggest question marks for me, but these ten years were the time of greatest acceleration in personal change, too. What about if I hadn’t gotten ‘stuck’ in Vietnam during the pandemic, not knowing when I could get ‘back’ due to border closures and staying in that state of uncertainty for twenty months? Who knows. But I do think that wherever you go, there you are, and the choice to do whatever you want to do is always there and always yours.

Deciding to decide, that’s another whole blog post, someday, maybe. But then again, this might be enough.

It’s up to you.



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