Hard Choices

May 2, 2024 Life

When faced with hard choices, I'm often tempted to search for the better option as if it's hiding just beneath the surface. But most of the time, there isn't one. Hard choices are hard not because they're unsolvable puzzles, but because each option carries its own set of values and complexities that defy simple comparison.

Most Choices Are Not Permanent

When standing before a hard choice, it's easy to fall into the trap of seeing it as a permanent, life-altering event. This type of thinking has had a huge impact on me previously and made me spiral down the "thinking-train" even more. If I think just a bit more, I might avoid making a big mistake.

In reality, however, most choices are not permanent and it's important to keep that in mind when facing a hard choice. If it's only a temporary choice, it doesn't have to be the best choice, does it?

The False Dichotomy

We often box ourselves into thinking there is only option A or B. But what if neither option is the right choice at the moment? Take the example of moving to a new house—if neither option feels quite right, perhaps the best choice is to wait.

Decision-making is not just about choosing between given options, though. Instead, we have the power to actively shape those options and the reasons behind our choice.

Not choosing now doesn't prevent you from making a similar choice in the future.

The "Gut Feeling"

I have a bit of a gripe with this term because while my gut does many great things, it certainly doesn't have feelings. It took me long to understand what is meant by it but I now think a better term would be emotional feeling.

If you have no rational explanation as to why an option is better or worse than the other, but you have a strong emotional feeling, don't undervalue this signal. Emotions have, after all, made humans as successful as they are today.

Embrace the Complexity

If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend you check out Ruth Chang's talk on how to make hard choices. It has highly influenced me in this area. The core takeaway I have from this talk is that I now start to embrace the complexity of hard choices in life and see them as opportunity to steer my life's narrative towards who I truly want to be.

It's extremely freeing to not think of hard choices as confining moments but as rare opportunities that you can use to grow.

Other Notes

Engineering/The 50-50 Goal
May 17, 2024
May 2, 2024
April 3, 2024
Engineering/Infrastructure/Deploy Workers Programatically
April 2, 2024
March 7, 2024
Engineering/Feature Flags
February 21, 2024
Engineering/Demo Culture
February 16, 2024
February 1, 2024
May 5, 2023
Engineering/ML/Jaccard Similarity
May 4, 2023
May 2, 2023
Engineering/Front-End/Modern Front-End Problems
November 3, 2022
Engineering/Test Matrixes
February 25, 2022
February 25, 2022
Engineering/Front-End/React’s Escape Hatch
February 21, 2022
January 1, 2022

About the author

Philipp Spiess
Philipp Spiess [ˈʃpiːs]

Engineer at Sourcegraph.
Prev: UI Engineer at Meta, curator of This Week in React, React DOM team member, and Team Lead at PSPDFKit.