Overchoice: Donuts & Freedom

In my hand I held a coupon for one free donut.

I carefully scanned every donut in the glass case full of options. Cookie butter creme, coconut glaze, pistachio crumble, blueberry fritter, chocolate glazed filled with peanut butter (OMG) — each one looked and sounded better than the last. I wanted to make that coupon count and choose the best freaking donut that place had to offer. The last thing I wanted was to bite into my donut of choice and realize I had wasted my coupon on one that tasted like I picked it up at a 7-eleven down the street.

I glanced over my shoulder and realized I was holding up the line. The decision was getting harder as I went back and forth trying to narrow down my options. Donuts aren’t even my favorite food. So, why was this decision hard? The principal of it: The freedom to choose also presented a cost. The cost of choosing one donut meant I was giving up the option of trying another one that might have tasted better (for free, at least;).

As I was reflecting on why it took me so long to choose a donut, I realized that freedom without limitations is something that I crave and that simultaneously opens pandora’s box of fears. And those fears threaten to consume me.

I’ve always had this bent towards making the absolute right decision given the information available to me. And sometimes, when I feel like I don’t have enough information, I ask for advice, research, dig, and collect more because I don’t want to miss anything that might have potentially changed my decision and made it a better one. Oh, the joy of being an over-thinker (who's with me?)! To give myself some grace, here, I do think there is wisdom in gathering information and letting it guide decision-making. I’ve just found that if I’m not careful, it can also generate too many options and lead to overanalysis and anxiety - overchoice.

Today, on my commute home from the city, I was listening to one of my favorite artists — Ryan O’Neal. His song “Land Or Sea” started playing and its lyrics resonated with me:

“One day we’ll wake up and realize-
To make any difference one must simply try.
Try to use words less than our hands,
For change is a direct result of our plans.
We’ve got no stakes in the ground.
We’ve got no anchors tied down.
Land or sea, there are no guarantees here, we know,
There is nothing but our fears of being free.”

This year, I have the freedom to go anywhere and do anything for the sake of learning. I find myself overwhelmed by the possibilities — how do I even begin to choose the right one; the one that won’t leave me disappointed and wishing I hadn’t wasted this opportunity on a wrong choice. I feel the weight of responsibility that comes with the gift of freedom and my feet feel cemented to the ground as the endless opportunities before me unfold. They drive me towards fear. Fear of being free. What a paradox!

But what if…

What if, when I focus on right and wrong, I'm missing the point? What if there is no right or wrong decision? What if all of the opportunities before me are good

“So let’s dry out our clothes and catch our breath.
Our process implies our progress.
Finally, there’s a mountain beneath us.
But up here our lungs fight against us.
Land or sea, there are no guarantees here.
God knows there is nothing but our fears.”

The reality is that once I climb this mountain and come to the end of this year, I will find myself at the beginning of a new one with yet another mountain to climb. It will be full of new freedom, opportunity and uncertainty. So, what if I take the pressure off of myself, today, to make the absolute right choice, find the perfect apprenticeship, or come up with the craziest most innovative personal project I can? What if I simply choose one of the opportunities before me and make the most of it? It won’t be perfect. But it will be good. I will be changed because of it and that is what makes it exciting!

See, I can make decisions motivated by fear or I can make ones fueled by hope. This journey is about progress. Successful progress isn’t black and white. It’s ebb and flow. It’s seeking wisdom. It's risk. It’s choosing. It’s leaning in. It’s doing. It’s learning. It’s growing. It’s process. It’s hope for who I will become as a result of making the most of what I choose. When I am fueled by hope, every opportunity is full of more opportunity. I can’t lose.

So, my dear friends, in the words of a wise dentmaker “May our choices reflect our hopes and not our fears.”

Oh, and by the way, I chose the chocolate glazed donut with peanut butter filling. It was good. And I look forward to trying the cookie butter one next time!

To choosing any donut!


I would love to hear from YOU if this is something you resonate with! Maybe you're trying to decide where to go to college, what job to take when you graduate, where to move next, how to spend your birthday money? Maybe you are reading this as you stand in line at an ice cream or donut shop with more options than your brain can handle. How can you begin to make choices that reflect your hopes? What might it look like for you to simply choose a good option and make the best of it? I'm always ready to listen and process as we live dented together! You can share your thoughts in the comments below or shoot me an email (hannah.ellenwood@gmail.com).