Paul Prather: Fretting about making the wrong choice does no good

Too often when facing a decision, I obsess and end up doing nothing

Contributing columnistMarch 23, 2012 

Among my flaws is what a friend who suffers from the same dysfunction calls "analysis paralysis." That is, when faced with a difficult choice, often I'll analyze it to the point of obsession.

I'll think it through for weeks. I'll list the pros and cons on paper, research the subject online, pray about it, talk to friends who've encountered similar situations — and then do all that again.

Sometimes I'll repeat this process until the time to act has passed and I've still made no decision, unless you consider my making no decision to be, in itself, a form of de facto decision-making.

My paralysis stems from the fear of making a bad choice, yet never being able to predict all the eventualities that could occur. I know that what looks like a reasonable choice today could prove disastrous tomorrow.

I tell you all that to say this: Recently I did make a decision, a (for me) leap of faith. With nudges from my wife, I learned to change my way of thinking.

For almost 2½ years, I'd been employed full-time as an editor for an electric-power company. In addition to paying me, my employer provided the best fringe benefits I've ever had. Its health insurance was superb, and the premiums were miniscule. Its 401(k) was great, too.

Indeed, the benefits, especially that health insurance, were the main reason I went to work there.

The church where I'm the pastor is a small, independent congregation. It can't provide me with insurance, and, as we know, ours is among the very few civilized nations that don't offer automatic health coverage to all citizens.

A few years ago I was single and paying my own insurance. I was in my 50s and diabetic, and my premiums rose by $100 a month every time I had a birthday. I was quickly approaching the point at which I wouldn't be able anymore. I also was concerned that if I did get seriously ill, my insurer would simply drop me and I'd end up bankrupted by medical bills.

So I took a job with this large corporation.

But there was another problem. When I took the position, I already had three other jobs. I was leading my church. I owned and operated 20 apartments. I wrote two newspaper columns each month.

For reasons too complicated to explain here, I didn't feel as if I could drop any of those other obligations.

Since 2009, then, I'd held down not one, not two, but four jobs. I worked 12- and 14-hour days, seven days a week.

It wore me to a frazzle.

I gained 30 pounds. My blood sugar spiraled out of control. I started suffering anxiety attacks, something entirely new to me; I don't recommend them.

Last June, I got married. Liz, my wife, has health insurance through her employer. She discovered I could join her coverage for $340 a month. That wasn't nearly as good a deal as I had at the power company, but better than if I were out there on my own again.

She encouraged me to leave my editing job, which took up more time than any of my other occupations, with less-flexible hours.

I'd still have my salary from the church, she pointed out, plus my two part-time gigs. Liz makes a good living herself.

"We'll be fine," she said.

It sounded like a plan. And then my analysis paralysis set in.

What if my church were to split? What if something happened to Liz, or our marriage didn't work out, and I needed that health insurance from the power company again? On I went, through a dozen catastrophic scenarios.

Maybe ... But ... Let's see ... I don't know ... Let me run the numbers again ...

Finally Liz, exasperated, said two things that improved my way of looking at the situation.

First, she asked me one night what good my less- expensive health insurance, my 401(k) and my extra salary were going to do me when I keeled over dead in the power company's hallway. I didn't have an answer.

Then, another night, she said: "Listen, you can never figure out what the future will look like. All you can do is make the best decision you know how to make given the information that's available today, and trust God. Will we face problems we can't foresee? Yes. We'll worry about those when we get there. So what? That's what life is — new obstacles. If we didn't have those particular problems, we'd have another set of problems."

She's pretty smart.

I've now become one job lighter.

It's only been a few weeks, but I haven't had an anxiety attack since. I still occasionally worry about what might happen.

But when I do, I remind myself that the future is unknowable and largely beyond my control. I need to release that to God or the cosmos or luck (take your pick), and enjoy today this new season of comparative freedom I'm in.

That might be self-evident to you, but it's a consciousness-altering revelation for a perennial fretter like me.

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