Why Getting What You Want Doesn’t Feel Good

2011 June 14

Last summer, I went to a workshop for a government funding program for business start-ups. First, I prepared. I did weeks of research. I had my business idea all planned out. I made an appointment to speak with the appropriate bureaucrat (he was both totally cute and utterly obliging – two very rare traits in paper pushers) to see if I qualified for the program. I filled out the relevant paper work. I showed up to the workshop 15 minutes early.

And…I already knew, could do or had done most of the aspects to be covered in the program. I have an undergrad degree in business. I know project management and marketing and financial reporting. I knew long before the hour was up that the excruciatingly baby-stepped out process this program entailed wasn’t for me. The monitoring, the check-ins, the progress reports, the slow and steady implementation format from which there could be no deviation, it just wasn’t gonna work. All that prep for nothing.

On the trip home, I mused about why I had thought that this was going to be the way to go in the first place. What about entrepreneurial moxie and risk-taking? Why I didn’t just dive right in with my idea instead of assuming that copious hand-holding, a dozen pros and cons lists and a better super safe than even moderately sorry approach were what I needed?

It’s a diligence thing. A covering your bases, doing your homework, polling the audience kinda thing. Maybe it’s the world we grew up in or the fact that technology means that you can more or less take a real-time straw poll (via Facebook, Twitter, etc.) on any decision you’re contemplating, but damn do we ever love to seek input and gather information and insulate ourselves against loss and risk and, god forbid, collateral damage to our personal brand. Isn’t waddling through life swaddled in 62 layers of psychic bubblewrap flipping awesome?!

No, no, it isn’t. Debating, researching, and agonizing everything to death doesn’t lead to better decisions, it leads to resignation. You don’t so much decide as simply give yourself over to what you’ve come to accept as inevitable after exhausting every what-if and yourself in the process. By the end, you’re so worn out and overloaded on facts, stats, arguments and outsourced input that you don’t actually have any energy left to muster emotional attachment to the matter at hand. Forget about instinct, all your gut can do is try to stave off an early ulcer. There’s no frisson of excitement and unknowingness, because you’ve made it your mission to eradicate it. To what end? Making a better decision? Making the best decision? Making the decision that can be most easily undone should you change your mind or have it changed for you?

When did the right thing become the most researched thing? And when did getting what you want get so needlessly overwrought?

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