Escape the All or Nothing Trap


Goldilocks thoroughly explored the porridge options.

It seems silly, but when weighing choices I often have to remind myself to look for a central position. Why is that? So much that we experience and absorb every day falls into what I call the All or Nothing Trap.

I suspect that All or Nothing school activities are not unique to our area. Our experience is that the schedule of most activities prevents students from trying more things at an age when they should be exploring many interests – because in another 10 years, they will have graduated from college and will be following their chosen career paths. Experiencing different opportunities in their teens would facilitate that career choice by showing them what they enjoy as well as some of the choices that they can select. There are many career paths outside of the default, but many students never learn of them until they are deep into the major they have already selected. Statistics I’ve seen for 4-year college graduation rates, and even 6-year graduation rates, are quite low. I wonder how much this might change if more students chose a major that was a good fit, the first time.

All-consuming careers push many people into exploring voluntary simplicity or early retirement (or at least fantasizing about it). For over a decade, I worked in jobs that consumed all my energy and brainpower most days. The last position was so extreme that I felt like a shell of a person, even unable to unwind on weekends that seemed to revolve around preparing for the coming workweek. I often talk with people in whom I recognize that same career exhaustion; it is clearly sustainable for some. We weren’t ready for early retirement, but I also needed a new path. It is more difficult to get a position in a new career path than in a proven one, but it was worth the time and effort. I enjoy my current job very much – and I also enjoy being able to spend more time with my family and friends and pursue my hobbies.

Our society demonstrates the all-or-nothing trap in other areas, too. Politics, anyone? The enmity shown between the parties, and the lack of will to collaborate or cooperate even on topics that should be easy for everyone to support, is reprehensible. Or how about the topic of health and nutrition? There will always be some new diet or supplement with its devotees and detractors; this is evident in comparing today’s magazine articles and ads to those of the late 1800s.

It is a small thing, but just remembering that there might be an alternative to All or Nothing removes some pressure, opens a door, and invites creative thinking.

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