It’s the universal creative dilemma: You’ve got a bunch of potential projects buzzing around in your head, and you don’t know which idea to choose.
You’re kind of attached to all of them (they’re pretty dang brilliant, after all), you KNOW that each of them could work, and the indecision is killing you… What, in the name of Zeus, should you do?
Let’s start with the fable of Buridan’s ass…
Picture a donkey – thirsty and starving. The poor creature stumbles into a field and to his delight, spots the very two things that could save him – on his left, a bale of hay; on his right, a trough of water.
He’s exactly halfway between the two, and he can’t work out which one he needs more. He’s absolutely starving, and as thirsty as he’s ever been… so each option seems equally important and essential.
And being but a humble ass, Mr Donkey doesn’t have the ability to look into the future to see that if he simply chooses one option first, he can take his fill, then immediately move on to the other option, thereby sating both his empty belly and his dry, cracked throat.
Instead, he gets completely stuck between the two. Unable to choose, unable to decide which is more important, he simply does… nothing. Paralysed, he ends up dying of both hunger and thirst, right there in the field.
Silly ass… If only he could have looked into the future and seen what us humans – with our big ol’ brains and meta-perspectives – can see: that choosing one option did not stop him having the other forever, it simply stopped him from having it at that exact same moment in time…
It’s easy to see the absurdity, right? You’d never do that. You’d never be so silly and obstinate and… assy, right?!
Except we do – we all do.
Creatives the world over are prone to paralysing indecision that keeps them stuck in the middle of their own proverbial ‘fields’ for months, years, even decades on end…
‘I don’t know which book to write, so I’m not going to write anything at all until I decide.’
‘I don’t know which product to create, so I’m just going to put it off and focus on something else until I know for sure.’
‘I can’t pick which of my passions to turn into a business, so I’m just not going to start anything for the moment…’
Obsessing over which idea to choose keeps us from doing anything at all. We see it as the donkey’s ‘either or’ – I can either write this book OR that book. I can either start this business OR that business. Which makes it a scary decision – maybe you like both zombie fiction AND Japanese poetry. Maybe you’ve got a fabulous idea for BOTH genres. Maybe it scares you a whole lot to relinquish your hold on either of them in order to commit to just one.
But the thing is, you’re only committing to one for now. Not forever – even though it may seem that way. When you’ve committed and devoted and produced and shipped, you can move straight on to whichever idea next appeals to you most.
(And maybe it will still be the other one you’re currently attached to so vehemently. Then again, maybe it will be something else entirely… who can tell?)
But isn’t it better to have devoted to one idea and produced something, rather than clutching on to two, never deciding, and never producing anything at all?
Isn’t it better to have built one imperfect business based on a cool idea, than plotted and planned and ‘pro-ed and conned’ your way through yet another year of indecision, tossing up between two cool ideas with nothing at all to show for it? Why not simply pick one, build it, then – if you want to – when you’re done, build the other.
Ditto for books – pick one and write it. Then pick another and write it.
Ditto for careers – pick one and run with it. Then pick another and pursue it. (Assuming you’re in your 30s and you’re going to live until you’re 80-odd, you can have, like, five whole expert-level careers between now and then. Despite what we’re told at high school, career decisions are NOT for life and they are NOT the be all and end all.)
Now, to be clear, I’m not advocating rash decision-making. Especially not for something that may become your focus for years to come. But once you have enough pertinent information in front of you, if you still can’t decide which idea is better, it means you’re choosing between two good ideas; perhaps even two GREAT ones.
And in the battle between water and hay, you can’t go wrong by simply picking one… then choosing again later if you need to.
So, to avoid being a creative dumbass, when you’re presented with multiple options and you can’t decide which idea to pursue, try this:
Get just enough information to be informed (not too much, not too little).
Then pick an idea.
Then act on it – smartly, sensibly, consistently…
…And then, when you’re done, choose again. Decide again. You’ll always get another shot. And action trumps indecision every time.