Choosing My Own Adventure (The Story of an Aspiring Decision Maker)

When I was in the third grade, I spent the better part of the year obsessed with those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. Obviously, these books have mass appeal, because there are hundreds, if not thousands, of them out there, on just about any topic you can imagine. At first, the idea of being the author of my own destiny was exciting, but it wasn’t long before these books started to make me call my decision-making abilities into question. This is because it didn’t seem to matter whether I was retrieving the Lost Jewels of Nabooti, chasing The Abominable Snowman, or taking a Journey Under the Sea, I was usually about three decisions deep into my adventure, and then BOOM. I was dead.

The first few times I steered my character into the face of death, I shrugged my shoulders and started over from the beginning. After a while though, the fact that I didn’t seem to be able to make any choice that didn’t result in my protagonist falling into a bottomless well, drowning in the sea, getting lost in space, or suffering some other equally horrifying demise, became a bit distressing.

This might as well have been the title of every single one of those freakin’ books.

Luckily, I was able to find a workaround to this problem. Using my trusty pad of Post-It Notes, any time I was faced with a decision, I would set up a safety net for myself. Once I had held my breath and turned to the next page (If you decide to look at the corpse, turn to page 88. If you think you should tell Nada it’s time to talk to Mr. Hamata about the bizarre events, turn to page 124), I stuck my Post-It to the page and made a note for myself. “Turn back to Page 15 if you died!!!” This way, as soon as I started to see things heading in a dangerous direction, I could go back and make the other choice, hoping that my character might actually live to see another day.

Although this seemed to be a foolproof way to outwit my bad decision making, the pages of my book began to get overwhelmed with sticky notes. Soon, there were so many little yellow pieces of paper poking out of the pages that I couldn’t figure out how to turn back anymore. I’d return to page 15, only to recall that the decision I’d made here had actually been a good one that didn’t need revising, and I’d have to try to figure out where exactly things had gone wrong past that point. The books became frustrating and overwhelming, and eventually, I gave up on them altogether.

I think that my experience with Choose Your Own Adventure books has been a bit of a metaphor for my real life. To this day, I hate making decisions. Although I might have an idea of what I hope the outcome of a choice will be, I usually try to get someone else to come to that conclusion for me. This way, I don’t have to be upset with myself if the consequences of that decision aren’t to my liking. If I want to go on a vacation, consider buying a new vehicle, new house, or new shirt, I ask Stu about ten thousand times what he thinks I/we should do. He usually says yes, so if this makes me feel anxious, I keep asking him over and over until he begins to question his original response and changes his answer to no. Then, when he says no, I usually feel disappointed, so I start to see if he will rationalize why we actually, maybe, should do the thing I just convinced him to decide against. I usually ask my parents next, because obviously, they’re moms and dads and they know how to handle these types of situations (the fact that Stu and I also are parents does not make us qualified to do this alone).

If my friends and I are going to a movie or out for lunch, or (worst-case scenario) trying to make plans on how to spend an entire day or night out, I always try to convince them that I don’t care and make them decide while secretly hoping that they’ll pick the choice that I really, really want. I have several friends who share this quality with me, so when we all get together, it’s not uncommon for us to sit staring at the foreboding Netflix screen for two hours while eating pizza (this is the only suggestion some brave soul was willing to make, knowing it was safe since everyone loves pizza). Big or small, decisions – I fear them all!

Let’s just discuss how ridiculous this is, getting the most depressing part of this analogy out of the way. No matter how many times I stress myself out over a decision I need to make, or worry about one that’s already set in stone, none of them will change the fact that one of these days, I’ll be dead anyway. My friends and have coined this term YODA. It’s the opposite of YOLO (You Only Live Once). While some people have taken to using this term to justify their (sometimes very dangerous) actions, my friends and I instead turn to YODA. What does this stand for? You’ll Only Die Anyway. We started it as a joke, but it’s so very true. Go ahead, Kayla! Buy that new pair of shoes! Remortgage your house to take a world cruise! Who cares?! YODA!

On the lighter side of things, I’m slowly coming to the realization that life is just too short to be second-guessing myself all of the time. Sure, it’s important for me to think of the pros and cons of a decision, pray about it, and get advice from people I trust before jumping into anything huge. But after I’ve checked off all of the boxes involved with responsible decision making, I want to be able to make a choice and be OK with it (maybe even excited about it).

In life, there are no sticky notes. Even if there were, if I relied on them the way I did while reading Choose Your Own Adventures in the third grade, I know I’d soon find myself overwhelmed with all the backtracking I was allowing myself to do, and I’d never get anywhere. This might be one of my greatest and most challenging aspirations yet – learning to take a breath, close my eyes, and make a decision – Post-It’s be damned.

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