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To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.
Kofi Annan

This little insighting was heavily inspired by Barry Schwartz’ TED talk on The Paradox of Choice. I watched it a few months back, and although it did strike a chord, I didn’t really think I’d be coming back to it.

And then our bassist left the band. Which meant that the rest of us had to face the task of finding another bassist.

The Courtship

In a way, finding a new member for a band is like going back on the dating scene after a long-term relationship. You have to get yourself noticed, first of all. Then you have to weed out the promising candidates from all the ones whose phone numbers you’ve received. And then you have to go on a date.

When a new band member is concerned, there are a few subtle differences to the whole dating scene. First, it’s not just my opinion about the person that matters, it’s the consensus.

Second, the date  (or as you might call them in a non-relationship terminology, audition) will have to include songs that are typical to the style of music we play. In a sense it’s similar to a date in that we’re trying to portray ourselves the way we really are. However, there is a definite imbalance in terms of power in the sense that the existing band members already know the songs, and the newcomer does need to prove him- or herself by being able to play those songs. Granted, there was an element of proving ourselves to the newcomer as well, which slightly balances the scales.

Third, we’re mainly looking for someone we can really get creative with. Being an all-round nice guy or gal just doesn’t cut it, unless they’re skilled enough as well. And then there’s the whole group dynamics jungle that I won’t even start to analyse. Suffice to say it’s important to take into account the type of people we are and the type of person the bassist is.

Finding out all this takes time in any relationship. The tricky thing is that you can’t really keep dating several bassists at the same time, not even casually. So after the first dates, it was time for a decision.

The Darn Choice Thing

The problem was – and as I write this, still is – that we ended up with two very different but very promising candidates. The basics are in check: they’re both skilled and nice to hang out with, judging by the brief time we spent with each. They are different, though.

Different strengths, different styles, different musical aspirations. We could go with either and probably get a good thing going, both musically and socially.

This is where the paradox of choice comes up.

No matter which one we choose, we’ll end up regretting losing the other possibility. You’d think having a choice here would make us happier, but it only makes us a bit more miserable in the end.

Had we only had one of them over for an audition, we would’ve been beside ourselves with joy and couldn’t have believed our luck. Now, though…

Also, the fact that we have two amazing choices makes us wonder if there’s still someone else out there that’s even better. It’s difficult to commit to one choice when the options are seemingly endless.

I’m currently having this same dilemma with my wedding gown. I have one already – a simple, white, trainless, beautiful gown. It matches my Mom’s veil from the 1970s (that I’ve been planning to wear down the aisle since I was twelve). Now, though, I’m itching to go and try on other dresses – just to see if they’re better. That darn choice thing again.

I’m pretty sure I won’t be any happier after I’ve tried on a dozen other dresses, even if I find one that’s perfect. Because then I’d have to give up this one, and with it the wonderful story that it was The First And Only Dress I Tried On.

I’m sure this enormous freedom of choice has something to do with the way people impose restrictions on themselves. About food, about the people they date. You have to have some limitations to the choices, otherwise you get paralyzed. I know I do.

If I have the whole day for myself to do whatever I want, I get nothing done. If I have a choice between two things – doing the laundry or reading for an exam – it’s easier. If the exam is tomorrow and I haven’t read a single page, the choice is easy, and there’s no room (or time) for me to get anxious about what to do.

Or, you know, “I don’t date men/women who are shorter/taller/smarter/dumber than me, blondes/brunettes/redheads/baldies/musicians/jocks/nerds/party girls, who have glasses/a speech impediment/weird hobbies/no siblings/too many siblings/no social life/too much social life…” Pick your favorites or add your own. 🙂

I once dated a guy who was awesome, except for the fact that we had completely different communication styles. Had we lived in a smaller town, we’d probably have gotten married, made a dozen kids and lived semi-happily ever after. There was too much choice in that single respect for the both of us, though, and we went our separate ways.

Or food. Ever since my fiancé and I started buying organic, local, or Fair Trade whenever we could, our shopping trips have become shorter and shorter. If the tomatoes have traveled more miles by plane than I have this year, we’re not getting them, even if they are the only tomatoes in the store. Far from being a sacrifice, these kinds of restrictions actually free up some of our brain capacity – instead of spending energy on making tiny decisions like these, we’re free to think about something else while grocery shopping.

On the big decisions, though, there’s still the whole choose one, lose the other -conundrum. I’m sure, though, that we’ll find the “right” solution for our bassist dilemma eventually. I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks for choosing to stop by – keep catching your own insightings!

Love,

Sari

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