Stunned by Choice

Published by Patrick Mayfield on

Deli Choices

In the early nineties, unfamiliar with American culture, I was in a mall in Chicago one lunchtime, ordering a ham and cheese sandwich at a deli. It was a simple request. Being British, I assumed they would assume, and fill in the blanks.

How wrong I was.

The guy who served me didn’t. What followed next, whilst familiar to North Americans, reduced me to stunned confusion:

Do you want that on a bagel?
White or rye?
Which cheese?
Butter or spread?
Do you want fries with that?
Mayo? 
Horseradish?

And I’m sure I’ve forgotten most of the options fired at me. I felt quite assaulted with this interrogation. It seemed like I was confronted with a multiple-choice decision tree, all of which was between me and my sandwich. 

Then I became conscious of the other patrons around me chuckling at this poor, stupid Brit blubbering through the available options. I just wanted to get out of there, preferably with that sandwich!

With hindsight I realise two things:

  1. It was lunchtime, one of the busiest times of the day for this man. He wanted to move the queue along and needed to narrow down the options for me. It was tedious for him as most of his patrons had been schooled is being specific.
  2. I was part of a culture where I had been born during a time of post-war rationing, where cleaning your plate was a moral duty, and where you were taught to be grateful for anything.

I was surprised and distressed by choice, a phenomenon that has emerged with the name decision fatigue, where one gets exhausted and angry with making decisions.

But should we not celebrate options? After all, freedom is essentially defined by one’s ability to exercise choice.

So now I choose… and remind myself to delight in the choosing.

I choose who to vote for, what to wear, and what to believe.

… and I choose not to go to that deli again!

Freedom is something we need to learn to exercise and handle.

This is particularly important when handling our own choices, how we plan our day, our week, our month, our project, our quarter, our year, and so on. And if we don’t plan it, someone else will. We surrender our freedom. I have an explanation here of how I use a bullet journal, a paper notebook to do my daily, weekly and monthly planning. Check it out here.

May you live a free and abundant 2020. Happy New Year!

Photo by Cenk Batuhan Özaltun on Unsplash


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