Have you ever been overwhelmed with too many options?  How about too many GOOD options?  I’m the kind of person who likes to consider as many possibilities as possible before a decision, and it doesn’t help me if the options are all favorable.  I frequently get overwhelmed with such decisions.  Even if it’s a relatively simple decision, give me time and I’ll make it complicated and overwhelming.  I came across the work “stuckness” a few years ago and it immediately resonated with me.

One thing I’ve learned is that when I am stuck, I’m usually focusing on the wrong thing.  While I’m fixated and ruminating on what appears to be the obvious decision, I’m ignoring some fear or resistance or something that stands in the way of my decision.  It’s a bit like worrying about which path I’m going to take without recognizing that I am terrified about the footbridge I must cross before I get to the path.

I have to keep relearning the lesson that when I’m stuck, I need to redefine my decision.  I need to identify what stands in the way of the decision me rather than what my options are.  I’ve learned a lot about my own process by helping and observing others in the midst of their stuckness.

One particular young woman I worked with several years ago was juggling scholarship offers from several colleges.  She was excited about her choices, but she felt completely overwhelmed with the decision.  She had gathered mounds of information from each of the schools, had spent weeks worrying, praying, and fretting over her choices, and she had talked repeatedly with every person who had a stake in her decision.  She admitted that there were no “bad choices” in the list of schools, but she was paralyzed.

In our counseling sessions she wanted to spend our time examining and comparing all the information, weighing pros and cons, and trying to think through every possible scenario.  After a couple of sessions of doing so, I told her I did not think that was a productive use of our time.  Doing so simply heightened her anxiety and made the choices seem that much more complex.   Her “darkness” was not a lack of information but rather an intense fear.  She was afraid of making a choice that would disappoint others.  She desperately wanted to find the option that would please everyone, but no such option existed.  She had a sense of which schools fit her better, but others whose opinions she valued had a variety of assumptions of what she should do.  Whatever her choice, someone was going to be dissatisfied.

Our work together became a process of redefining her darkness from making a choice to facing her fear.  Gradually she was able to say with greater clarity that there were no “bad choices” in the list, only choices that would work out in different and unpredictable ways.  With that admission, she began to move.

First, she decided that she would indeed make some decision, despite her fears, within the deadlines.  She acknowledged that her decision would be made with less information that she wished for, and she would have to deal with the consequences as they unfolded.  She also admitted that no matter her choice, some people were bound to be disappointed.  In short, she had to address her fear of taking any step at all for fear that it would be a “wrong” step.  It was only in embracing the inevitable unknowns that she was able to truly use the information she had available.

The only light she had, in the midst of all the confusing information, was her intuition of which school fit her academic needs and her personality.  Once she began paying attention to those parts of the process, she was able to eliminate many of the options and narrow her focus.  She had to pay attention on the small amount of light she had rather than scaring herself by trying to see beyond that next step.

Postscript:  She ultimately chose a mid-sized university with a strong reputation in her chosen field.  It was also a suitable distance from home, and it turned out to be an academically, socially, and emotionally satisfying four-year experience for her.  It wasn’t the perfect choice, but none of the others would have been either.