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Keep your options closed

  • Published at 12:40 pm January 14th, 2016
Keep your options closed

Sometime in 210 BC, there lived a man named Xiang Yu in China. A shrewd and ruthless leader of his time, Xiang Yu was leading his troops to take over the mighty Qin Dynasty. One day, his troops had taken the night off after they had passed through the river of Yangtze. The troops were awakened in the morning with sheer horror in finding that their ships were burning.

They discovered that it was not the enemy that was responsible, but their very own leader, Xiang Yu, who had managed to crush the cooking pots as well.

Xiang Yu explained to his troops that, with no ships to sail back and no food to eat, the only course left to the soldiers was to conquer the Qin dynasty or perish.

Xiang Yu’s strategy didn’t earn him the reputation of the respected leaders of China, but his strategy had a tremendous effect on his troops becoming more focused, crushing each and every battle until the Qin dynasty had fallen for the very first time.

Now, put yourself in the shoes of Xiang Yu. Could you have opted for a strategy such as his? Or would you have gone for a more humanitarian approach?

Most of you will obviously be opting for this strategy now I presume, but such a course is antithetical to basic human behaviour.

We, as people, are more concerned about keeping our options open.

We would have kept some men near the ships if we needed to retreat, or would have needed a few men to keep cooking the rice that we would need the next day before battle.

In the context of today, we build personal computers that have the necessary upgrade paths, we buy cars which have potentially higher resale value, we keep our children busy in every possible activity just so that they can shine in a few.

Keeping options open is the de facto way of living life these days.

A friend of mine, an extremely talented student who got admitted into both IBA and BUET, was pursuing both universities to see which would give him the most career benefits.

He was good at both, but later on, his mind was defeated by frustration as both the options were proving to be incompatible day by day.

Another example was an acquaintance whose problem centred around two people she was dating at the same time -- she was unable to dedicate her energy and passion to the new one to make a durable relationship with him, or she could put her efforts to the previous relationship that she thought was dying.

Later on, she couldn’t opt for one, and suffered a whole lot of pain.

So, what is it about human behaviour that goads us to keep our options open? Why do we compel ourselves to keep as many doors open as possible, knowing full well that it will end in frustration? Who do we blame? Ourselves? Our parents? Our teachers? Maybe society? Maybe our culture?

Unfortunately, it’s none of these. Studies have shown that we, as human beings, are hard-wired to look for options. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop them.

We need to drop out of committees we think no longer serve our purpose, we need to let go of the friendships that have moved forward into a different life, we need to focus on one specific skill at a time, rather than spreading ourselves too thin in parallel, which is too tempting.

Running impulsively from one option to another not only saturates our emotions, but is also gravely hazardous to our wallets.

We need to focus on our options and try to leave behind the small doors of our lives. But the bigger doors, often choosing between two options, like two career choices, are hard.

The only way is to follow what the heart says and go for it. Because, like the donkey’s story, starving oneself by wasting time wondering which stack of hay is better, is a fool’s errand.

How irrational we are, when many people in our own surroundings are making the same decisions every day, thinking of themselves and advising others as the most rational thinkers. 

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