A tapestry of possibilities, but no progress without choice

I think there’s something about “possibilities” that makes us excited — looking at a map and seeing all the places we could go, looking at a list of classes and seeing what the semester ahead could entail, walking into a library and seeing all of the books that we could read next….but that’s the key – “could.” We see a multi-faceted, many-colored tapestry in front of us, and we become excited.

But ultimately, we can only choose one reality. We can only go down one path. And if we try to do all of the things, we may end up with nothing. Or if we take too long to choose, we may also end up with nothing. The longer we stay at a crossroads, taunted by the multitudes of possibilities in front of us, but afraid to let them go by choosing only one, the more they begin to slip away from us. Not choosing means wasting time, and the more time we spend choosing, the more time we’re spending not pursuing any of them.

So, it’s better just to choose one, even if we’re uncertain. Choose one and then try it, and even if it doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean the others are all off the table. We can try one path, decide that it’s not what we want to pursue, and take a decision to go in a different direction. The key is to not stand still and wait. We’ve got to take action, and only through action do we actually learn what we want and don’t want.

And the key thing about this is that, as long as we truly are listening to ourselves to understand what we like and don’t like and taking action accordingly, at each inflection point or fork in the road, the tapestry of possibilities in front of becomes increasingly more tailored to what we actually may want…more tailored to us. So the choices in front of us become better and better.

The key thing is to simply do something. Take action to gain information. There is no right or wrong, only the gain of information with each step.

Freedom and responsibility of shaping our reality

High-level summary: Having the ability to shape our own path is an enormous freedom, but we also have the responsibility to ourselves to constantly be aware and continue questioning what is right. It is important to maintain a relentless approach in cutting that which we realize is not, while incorporating our continually increasing self-understanding to decision points in the future.

I was recently thinking about the freedom that I have had in shaping my life and my reality – both out of circumstance, but also because I made it so. I wanted to share some of my thoughts around this in terms of how this has come about, but also the responsibility that this also brings about.

I. Shaping of freedom

As I thought about it, three main things set the stage for freedom in my life from the very outset.

  1. New country: My family and I immigrated to the United States when I was a child, which meant that there was no precedent set for me in terms of what to do – this country was as new for my parents as it was for me, and the old ways of doing things did not hold true here.
  2. Oldest child: I was the first child, so I was my parents’ first experience with parenthood, and I had no siblings to look up to or compete with.
  3. No rooted family traditions: Finally, given that most of my family is relatively independent and non-religious, I have never really had any strong family or religious traditions that rooted me into any set routines or processes.

All this to say – I have had a lot of freedom from the beginning of my life. This meant that as I grew older and began to make decisions, there were no expectations, precedents, or footsteps to follow, from my parents or any family or siblings. What my parents did give me, however, was a guiding light – they pushed me to always strive for the highest and best that I could do, while also keeping in mind my happiness. Despite an unclear exact path, I internalized, from a very young age, the ever-present pursuit of excellence and achievement – and also of happiness.

Over the years, I have shaped my path very independently. I have felt free to explore, try things, fail, try again, and keep trying, across a variety of different areas. I had no expectations to meet other than my own, which tended to be far higher than those of others around me. At times when I felt that I had limited freedom or felt stuck in a “box” of some sort (stringent expectations from others around me that were not aligned with my own), I often distanced myself from this as well. Overall, this freedom has meant that I have taken a relatively unconventional path at times, and likely will continue to do so. However, the freedom to shape my path as I want, combined with my relentless pursuit of excellence, has also come with a certain responsibility to make sure that I am doing the right thing for myself in the decisions that I take.

II. Sensitivity = awareness, which also requires ruthless decision-making

For me, this responsibility has meant constant analysis and a certain hypersensitivity to the situation in which I find myself. I am naturally a sensitive person, but as the weight of my decisions has become increasingly higher over the years, my level of sensitivity has also increased. With sensitivity comes a high level of awareness.

I constantly assess how I am feeling and try to determine what is causing me to feel a particular way. I track (in my head or in written format) the specific emotions that I am feeling at particular moments, the situation, and the factors that may be leading to these feelings. I try to be very specific about it, down to getting an understanding of what types of people I tend to get along with (down to personality type), what sorts of work situations I enjoy (down to particular focus areas, tasks, and team situations), where I tend to enjoy living, and more. Doing this over time has enabled me to develop a very keen understanding of the small factors of the bigger-picture situations that lead me to have positive or negative experiences. With enough data points, my level of certainty increases, and I am able to form a relatively clear picture of what it is that I like or do not like.

When I realize that something is wrong or right with a high level of certainty, I try to act upon that (whenever possible). That may mean changing course, cutting ties with certain people, changing work direction, or other such measures oriented around change and decision-making. It may also simply mean that next time such a decision comes about, I am more aware of my preferences, and can make a more informed decision that will likely provide a better experience.

Over the course of time, I have realized how important it is to take steps to cut out that which we know is not right, and to take steps toward that which is right (or at least toward the unexplored and unknown, if we already know that what we have tried is, at least, not right). We need to be ruthless in cutting things out or making better decisions, because that is the only way that we can create the empty space to fill with something that has the potential to be better.

It is only in taking these decisions that we actually get the feedback to continue making more decisions that are increasingly more right – tailored toward increasing the good and decreasing that which is not right.

Over the course of my life, I have tried to become increasingly active in making these decisions for myself, even though it can be hard sometimes, and I have not always perfectly followed this. Nonetheless, in business and in life, it is an important mindset to take. In shaping our reality, we need to be both aware, but also relentless in acting upon this information.