Rationalising life choices through stories
From snoozing the alarm in the morning, to having coffee, skipping breakfast, taking a cab to work, attending important and not so important meetings, making product feature choices, answering customer queries, making a sale to customer who needs what we’re selling (or to one who doesn’t), setting up deadlines, working out at the gym, texting some friends on WhatsApp, listening to the radio or a personal music collection, there are decisions involved. These are all decisions that are less relevant in the larger scheme of things. Maybe. Maybe not.
Then there are other decisions. Which college to study at, what course to major in, what city to live in, what places to visit on a vacation, what cuisines to eat, what kind of books to read, whom to marry, whether to have kids, whether to startup, whether to quit a job, whether to take up a new job, whether to start a new career. These are all decisions that are more relevant in the larger scheme of things, in shaping our lives. Maybe. Maybe not.
I don’t want to question the relevance of these decisions. Maybe the smaller ones help in forming long lasting habits and are more relevant. Maybe the smaller ones form guidelines under which the bigger decisions get taken and hence are more relevant. Or maybe they don’t matter at all.
The reason I’m saying ‘maybe’ a lot is because even after these decisions are taken (or not taken), the impact they have is still in our control.
Whatever decision we take at any point is one that we believe will benefit us the most, however we define that benefit to be. And since life doesn’t offer guarantees on the outcomes of any decision, merely probabilities, there is always room to look back after the consequence and decide whether a decision made was right or wrong. And unlike in Poker, the probabilities are harder to compute at the time of raising the stakes (making the decision). It is not all simple math.
So, when you look at the reflections of lives’ that people have lived, they always have advice that sounds like this, or the polar opposite. Although the polar opposite doesn’t get published quite as often.
Irrespective of the choices and irrespective of their consequences, when looking back on them, the rationalization of the choices happens in the present. That is completely under our control. It is possible to regret decisions made or be thankful for them or somewhere in between. But how we rationalise defines the choices we make moving forward. As the rationalizations form the basis of what is right and what is wrong.
And we rationalize our choices through stories that we tell ourselves. Humans live in stories. Stories formed out of patterns. Anything new is easy to comprehend when it fits into the narrative that we have so far.
This is why having a vision for your product becomes so vital. Without one, you are no longer sure what fits into the narrative and what doesn’t. Similarly, if you don’t have a narrative to fit your rationalizations of your life choices into, you end up rationalizing them on what is immediately visible. You see someone buying a new house and wish you had saved more, or you see a colleague moving to a different company for higher pay and wish you had taken on the projects that she did.
Tell yourself a coherent story. It doesn’t always remain the same. It evolves over time as you do. But there should always be a story where you’re the protagonist.