“The problem, simply put, is that we cannot choose everything simultaneously. So we live in danger of becoming paralyzed by indecision, terrified that every choice might be the wrong choice. (I have a friend who second-guesses herself so compulsively that her husband jokes her autobiography will someday be titled ‘I Should’ve Had the Scampi’.) Equally disquieting are the times when we do make a choice, only to later feel as though we have murdered some other aspect of our being by settling on one single concrete decision. By choosing Door Number Three, we fear we have killed off a different—but equally critical—piece of our soul that could only have been made manifest by walking through Door Number One or Door Number Two.
The philosopher Odo Marquard has noted a correlation in the German language between the word ‘zwei,’ which means ‘two,’ and the word ‘zweifel,’ which means ‘doubt’—suggesting that two of anything brings the automatic possibility of uncertainty to our live. Now imagine a life in which every day a person is presented with not two or even three but dozens of choices, and you can begin to grasp why the modern world has become, even with all its advantages, a neurosis-generating machine of the highest order. In a world of such abundant possibility, many of us simply go limp from indecision. Or we derail our life’s journey again and again, backing up to try doors we neglected on the first round, desperate to get it right this time. Or we become compulsive comparers—always measuring our lives against some other person’s life, secretly wondering if we should have taken her path instead.
Compulsive comparing, of course, only leads to debilitating cases of what Nietzsche called ‘Lebensneid,’ or ‘life envy’: the certainty that somebody else is much luckier than you, and that if only you had her body, her husband, her children, her job, everything would be wonderful and happy…With certainty so difficult to achieve, everyone’s decisions become an indictment of everyone else’s decisions, and because there is no universal model for what makes ‘a good man’ or ‘a good woman,’ one must almost earn a personal merit badge in emotional orientation and navigation in order to find one’s way through life anymore.”
—Elizabeth Gilbert, “Committed”