If indecision were a disease, I would be a chronic and severe sufferer – but only for life’s smallest and most inconsequential decisions.
I arrive at the big, important decisions, the ones with the power to alter lifestyle and career and even the course of life itself, with the kind of nonchalant ease and absolute certainty that would suggest that I remain utterly unflappable in the face of the mundane, insignificant choices filling up everyday life. This, however, couldn’t be farther from the truth. For the small decisions, the indecision strikes.
Here’s a case-in-point: Yesterday afternoon saw me standing in the cosmetics section of the drug store clutching five bottles of nearly identical rose-coloured nail polish, forehead scrunched up into a frown, life grinding to a halt all around me while I hemmed and hawed over an enormous mental list of pros and cons for what would be quite possibly the most trivial purchase I’d make all month. I knew I was doing it wrong: Choosing a nail polish colour, even if you’ve got a specific look in mind, should be an impulse purchase. Thoughtless. Quick and easy. And there I was, attempting to zero in on the perfect colour, going through the same weighty decision-making process that most people would reserve for occasions like choosing which property to buy or which job offer to accept. Two weeks ago, I purchased a non-refundable airline ticket to a far-flung country with a shrug of my shoulders and a few decisive taps on my keyboard – no sweat, no big deal – and now I’m agonizing over which shade of pink to paint my fingernails. It makes no sense, but it’s the way I operate.
There’s also this: I am capable of spending hours on end perusing Amazon.com for a book to read, then leaving the site without actually purchasing anything. I devour those free preview chapters one after another, hopping from book to book in an effort to uncover the perfect book – in fact, by this point, the act of reading sample chapters has almost morphed into an enjoyable pastime in its own right. Based purely on the number of books sitting in my nearly endless wishlist, I’d look like ultimate picture of a voracious reader. But if you look at the number of books that actually make their way onto my Kindle, I’m not such an avid bibliophile after all, just a girl with some serious decision-making difficulties.
The result of all this indecision is that I often end up walking away from the purchase altogether, as though the stress of actually arriving at a final decision will be too much to handle; too much effort for such an average outcome. I’ve walked away from magazine racks in airport bookstores even with a nine-hour flight looming in front of me due to an inability to choose between Vogue or InStyle; I’ve turned my back on vending machines even in the face of an overpowering chocolate craving because I couldn’t decide between a Caramilk or a Crunchie; I’ve even told waiters that their restaurant’s wine list “makes my head spin” before settling on a glass of water – and don’t ask me if I want ice or lemon, thank you very much. Come to think of it, my issues with indecision have probably saved me hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars over the years, money that I truly wanted to fritter away on little indulgences.
Of course, it’s easy enough to describe my indecisiveness and then raise my eyebrows at the strangeness of it all without really thinking about it, but since it seems appropriate at this point to offer up a theory on why I am the way I am, here’s my take on it: If you take a consummate perfectionist and put her in a situation where there’s an excessive number of very similar choices to consider, each with a very hazy set of pros and cons and no real consequences, the decision becomes exponentially harder. The concept of a “wrong choice” is blurred and intangible (because really, is there actually a wrong choice when it comes to selecting a chocolate bar or a magazine?) when the whole thing is evaluated more on a spectrum of satisfaction and dissatisfaction than right and wrong and when the final decision won’t even matter an hour later – but the perfectionist in me still wants to push as close to the satisfaction end of that spectrum as possible; to walk away from the store feeling pleased with my choice; to start reading one book without wondering whether the others would have been better.
And so the next time you see a girl standing in the drug store’s cosmetics department, five bottles of nail polish clutched in her hands and her forehead scrunched up into a frown, you can safely assume that she’s a perfectionist suffering from a severe case of indecision, and in that exact moment, there is no decision that seems more pressing – more critical – than picking the perfect shade of pink out of a handful of already right choices.