Travel Lit

When the Possibilities are Endless

I’m flying to Hawaii tomorrow.  I could be staying there anywhere from a week to the rest of my life.  Which course my life takes is entirely contingent on whether or not I find a job within the next six days.  If I do, then I’ll stay in Honolulu and if I don’t, I’ll either move back to California or to Las Vegas, Chicago or Portland.  My life is at a major crossroads and the number of directions it could go in are endless.  It’s overwhelming to say the least.

Doors All Around by Pareeerica

Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert describes this nicely in her book Committed:  A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage.  After spending time in a Vietnamese village where people’s paths in life are chosen for them by the circumstances in which they were born, she wonders if perhaps one of the problems of modern, western society is that people have too many choices.   She suggests that this may be what’s behind why modern society has become a ‘neurosis-generating machine’.  In the face of so many seemingly equally wonderful opportunities, we’re terrified that we’ll chose the wrong one.  And we therefore spend much of our lives second-guessing ourselves and comparing our lives with one another’s and with what our lives could have been, had we chosen differently.

Here’s an exert, taken from pages 45 and 46 in the hard-cover edition.

“The problem, simply put, is that we cannot choose everything simultaneously. So we live in danger of becoming paralyzed by indecision, terrified that every choice might be the wrong choice…Equally disquieting are the times when we do make a choice, only to later feel as though we have murdered some other aspect of our being by settling on one single concrete decision.  By choosing Door Number Three, we fear we have killed off a different – but equally critical – piece of our soul that could only have been made manifest by walking through Door Number One or Door Number Two…

…Now imagine a life in which every day a person is presented with not two or even three but dozens of choices, and you can begin to grasp why the modern world has become, even with all its advantages, a neurosis-generating machine of the highest order.  In a world of such abundant possibility, many of us simply go limp from indecision.  Or we derail our life’s journey again and again, backing up to try the doors we neglected on the first round, desperate to get it right this time…

…All these choices and all this longing can create a weird kind of haunting in our lives – as though the ghosts of all our other unchosen, possibilities linger forever in a shadow world around us, continuously asking, ‘Are you certain this is what you really wanted?'”

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8 thoughts on “When the Possibilities are Endless

  1. Finding a job in six days!?! Wow, that’s a challenge! And thank you for showing that my lack of perspectives can actually be a disguised blissfulness of no indecision. 😉

  2. Sounds like an exciting time!

    I’ve been thinking about this idea of too much choice lately, particularly in relation to the grocery store. After living overseas and having more limited options, I find large American grocery stores completely overwhelming. There’s just too much choice. Instead of seasonal vegetables, there are all sorts of options trucked in from all over the world. Instead of two brands of pasta sauce, there are 20. I waste so much time looking for the best deals and reading all the ingredients. We’re recently begun getting almost all of our groceries at Trader Joe’s, not only because we know there won’t be any artificial flavors or preservatives, but also because it’s so much easier to choose. You want pudding, there’s only vanilla and chocolate, and you know that neither of them have all this extra junk attached.

    Life in the Western world is similar to our typical grocery stores. We can become paralyzed by the options, especially when it takes so much time and effort to research them.

  3. @ Heather – So true! I was just thinking that same thing yesterday while I was shopping for flour at Safeway. It seriously stressed me out having to debate whether or not I wanted bleached or unbleached flour or if I wanted to splurge and buy the organic flour or go cheap and buy the generic Safeway brand. Not only was that experience stressful and anxiety-provoking but it seriously pissed me off that I had to waste 10 minutes of my day and a ton of mental energy on something so insignificant.

    Not that I’m not grateful for the choices we’re given in life (and I’d never trade my life for living in a poverty-stricken Vietnamese village) but I think society has taken everything to the extreme. The pendulum has swung too far.

  4. @ Ania – I’m thinking I’ve bitten off way more than I can chew with my plan to find a job in six days. The job situation there doesn’t look very promising! But we’ll just have to see I guess…Keep your fingers crossed! : )

  5. Wow, a job in 6 days..that’s challenging! I wish you the best of luck..I can’t imagine ever thinking you’d gone through the wrong door living in Hawaii!

    I really liked the excerpt from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book that you posted. It’s SO TRUE. I’ve been feeling like that since graduating from college and to have it articulated to me in such a clear, direct manner was awesome. I will be checking the book out from the library today! (I’m also praying it’s there, haha).

  6. @ Sarah – The book is mostly about the history of marriage but it’s still really interesting. Did you know, for example, that the reason women wear white on their wedding day is because of Queen Victoria? She wore a beautiful white wedding dress which sparked a fashion trend and women have been doing it ever sense. People don’t really question why it is that they do certain things a certain way and claim that it’s because of ‘tradition’ but I wonder how many people would still do it if they knew where the tradition came from?

    It certainly made me think twice about it. I look better in green than white…I’m not sure if I’d want to wear a white wedding dress just because a queen from another country once wore one 200 hundred years ago.

  7. Hi Reannon,

    It’s ironic that we fight to have the largest amount of opportunities available, and then go nutty trying to find the best one!

    I too feel quite burdened by choices right now: Where should I go next? Argentina? Thailand? Taiwan? Chile? Malaysia? Then there’s ‘How can I advance my career? (Take a photography course? Further uni study? If I do university should I do it in the city I’ve spent so much time in already, or move to another one?) Then there’s ‘how can I balance travel and tertiary education, or should I forget about further qualifications and just focus on writing?’

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