An aspect of modern living that my parents never had to deal with was having (real or perceived) unlimited options.

Here is a brief list of the aspects of life that they had very limited options about that I can have any variation of:

  • Movies: Going to the movies was a big deal and there were only a few movies available. I have Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, Amazon Video, YouTube and many other services.
  • Dating: My parents chose their partners the same way we chose kickball teams in elementary school: they looked around and chose from whomever was available. I have a million dating apps and websites (well, I did. I’m married so this doesn’t really matter).
  • Work: My parents’ work options were limited by whatever was geographically close combined with what they were capable of doing. The internet and remote-working culture has made it possible to do a huge variety of things from anywhere in the world.

And on and on. At every turn, from what I wear to what I eat, there are decisions I can make. This variety is amazing, but can cause me to feel at least a little unsatisfied with whatever decision I make because there’s always another available.

Over the years I’ve learned to manage my expectations so that I can eliminate the grass is always greener mentality.

For one, I create self-imposed limits on my choices. I first learned about the power of finding freedom in constraint when I took a poetry class in college. I found structured poems like haikus and sestinas resulted in more creative poems than free verse attempts. Anytime I feel overwhelmed by options, I create a self-imposed limitation. In a restaurant, for example, I’ll only choose from the specials or a combination of appetizers.

Another strategy is taste testing. Just like you can get a little sample of ice cream before choosing a flavor to put on your cone, I look for opportunities to try options before committing. When I was looking for a new job a few years ago I shadowed people who had that job for a day. I found that people were much more willing to do this than I though they would be and it gave me a great window into what their lives is really like. Validating my preconceptions made it way easier to figure out what I did and didn’t want in a new job.

Ultimately, you have to come to terms with the fact that the grass may look greener, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be happier there.

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