My friend Jade Rivera wrote a post last week that hit me right in the heart.
It’s about what she calls “opportunity fatigue“:
A person with opportunity fatigue is exhausted in the face of almost unlimited opportunities for growth and learning, who could self-actualize in any given direction if they weren’t overwhelmed with constraints, options, and decisions.
This made so much sense to me, on so many fronts, that I stared at the words on my monitor, mouth agape for several minutes.
Yes, Jade. This. This. THIS.
In a world where we feel compelled to “do all the things,” there comes a point when one starts to ask how, when, and eventually why?
Jade acknowledges upfront that there is a lot of privilege tied to this phenomenon, and other friends point out, rightly, that there is some overlap here with polymaths and multipotentialites (a.k.a. “gifted adults”). Yes, I say, to all of that. It doesn’t make opportunity fatigue any less overwhelming, however, if you’re sinking or mired in it.
There are some issues here related to mid-life crises, too. Not the kind dramatized in media (cougars in tight skirts and men in fast cars) but rather those quiet, uneasy moments when one realizes life really is short and it might be running out on you personally. Basically, it’s the kind of stuff every middle-aged woman I know is going through this week, to some extent.
I see it, too, in many parents. As soon as the stick signals a baby is on the way, we start to tune into cultural pressure to fit in all the right after school lessons, all the right sports, all the right experiences–but how do we make it fit? Homeschoolers can become lost in a sea of curriculum options and online classes.
And the kids? As a teacher friend who read Jade’s post remarked: “We learn early on that we cannot offer our students unlimited choice. They become paralyzed by the sheer number of choices. Why should adults be any different?”
Choices. Choices. Choices.
A sea of choices. Which ones do we make? Which ones will lead us to where we want to be in six months? A year? On our deathbeds?
It’s downright existential, y’all.
The antidotes to opportunity fatigue is discernment and a healthy connection to one’s intrinsic motivation. I could offer a class to teach these skills, but it’s likely that no one would sign up (due in large part to their opportunity fatigue).
After I stopped chuckling at the truth Jade touched upon, it occurred to me that the lack of a discernment rubric is problematic. We need a flow chart (or several), a handy if/then, Pinterest-ready visual to get us started on deciding what is really worth our time–and what isn’t.
Where Jade sees a need for discussions about discernment being related to socio-emotional skills (and rightly so), I part with her on where and when these discussions need to take place. She sees it as being part of compulsory K-12 education but that, for me, is only one piece of the puzzle.
There’s room for big and little conversations across the lifespan about where we are going as individuals and collectively. In a world of rising opportunity, what may save our precious souls is making the choice to connect and collaborate with other people who respect our journey as much as we honor theirs. There’s a place for therapy–especially in situations where one has few or no healthy, mature relationships based on mutual respect–but there’s much to be said for turning toward friends and family and talking through the fatigue and overwhelm. Whichever option one chooses, the important thing is to recognize that opportunity fatigue isn’t inherently bad but rather a signal that we need to take stock and reflect upon what we really want from life.
In the long run, failure to dislodge ourselves from rising opportunity fatigue may come at a high price, especially for those of us prone to depression and anxiety or even low-grade, fatigue-fueled emotional burn out. As Jade writes:
Do you want success, security, or contentment? Choose your opportunity wisely and you may get all three. It’s possible, but not plausible. The savvy person knows this, and in the midst of an ongoing existential crisis, may just opt out… of learning, of doing, of the constant striving necessary to improve one’s life.
• Last year, a friend of mine recommended Margaret Wheatley’s Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope for the Future (Amazon Affiliate Link). Wheatley writes: “The intent of this book is to encourage and support you to begin conversations about things that are important to you and those near you.” It’s a compelling read.
• The day after Jade published her piece on LinkedIn, someone shared with me this post about “hobby anxiety” via Slate.com by Katy Waldman: “Hobby anxiety—the fear that you have failed to cultivate interesting or likable or merely non-imaginary hobbies—is real. It bubbles up in conversations among adult friends over brunch (is that a hobby?) and in existential moments before you drift off to sleep. (Sleep: hobby, biological necessity, or both?)”