Some days I feel lost, overwhelmed, maybe even a bit panicky. This usually happens when I’m agonizing over an important choice, facing some kind of setback in the pursuit of a goal, or worse yet, I’ve come face to face with the undeniable fact that I have failed.
On a few of those days, I’ll admit that I may procrastinate and distract myself with a bit of retail therapy courtesy of Amazon.com. As I scroll through the pages of outdoor patio umbrellas, boy’s clothing ages 6-8, or all natural sunscreens (yes, this is the crap I shop for), I find myself wishing that succeeding in life could be as simple as online shopping with Amazon.
In the Amazon world, everything is easy. Want something? Just go to their website and type in a keyword. Thanks to a clever network of algorithms and what seems like an infinite inventory of products, Amazon can help you find what you “need” and even a few things you didn’t think you needed! A couple key strokes more – a confirmation of your 3-digit pin code or, better yet, hit ‘Buy now with 1-click’ – and almost anything you want can be delivered to your doorstep within 24-48 hours at no extra cost. Don’t like it? Experiencing buyer’s remorse? No problem, just send it back; there’s no such thing as making a mistake within the Amazon customer’s world.
If only life could be like shopping on Amazon
If life were like an Amazon shopping experience three things would be true:
- Finding what makes you happy would be simple and fast.
- You could successfully reach most of your goals in 24-48 hours.
- You’d never have deal with your mistakes.
1. Finding “right” for us would be so easy
Amazon removes all the existential angst of figuring out what we need to be happy. All it takes to be fulfilled is the vaguest notion of what might please us, and the patience to click our way down a rabbit hole of sales pages until we find that one (or ten) thing (s) that satisfies our purchasing itch.
But nothing seems easy. I’m anxious – is something wrong with me?
When we expect things to be easy, and they’re not, we start to worry that there’s something wrong with us.
I hear it all the time: “I should know what I want! I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I just can’t figure out my passion” (stated by a 23 year old in their second year of work).
When we believe that knowing what’s right for us professionally, romantically or existentially should be as simple as choosing an outdoor patio set, then we start to panic when we realize that we don’t have all the answers.
This is exactly what I see happening with a lot of my clients and patients (not just millennials) who, faced with the unavoidable uncertainties of life, confronted by their own doubts, or simply lacking insight, start to feel inadequate, broken, and anxious, because they don’t have all the answers figured out.
2. All your dreams will come true within 24-48h (Five business days max without Prime)
Amazon makes immediate gratification the rule, not the exception. Your eight-year-old is having a birthday party and wants to switch from a Pokémon to a ninja theme at the 11th hour. No problem, theme-coordinated plates, napkins, masks and balloons are just a few clicks away and will be delivered to your door at no extra charge within 24 hours! In the Amazon world, goals are easy to achieve, dreams are never far off, and success is guaranteed.
It’s been more than 48 hours – it’s been a few years. We’re still “not there yet”, so we bail early – struggling is the same as failing right?
In theory most of us understand success requires hard work, patience, grit, trial and error, but we have all grown so accustomed to the ease with which our simple needs can be satisfied in the Amazon-like experience, that we start to expect this same immediacy in every area of life.
It’s no wonder then that people are quick to bail when reaching a goal takes more time, effort or work than originally anticipated. It’s hard to see struggling to get what we want as anything but a sign of failure when every other experience we have in life tells us it should be easy to get what we need.
The problem with bailing early, of course, is that we miss-out on the opportunity to learn something about ourselves. We give up precious insight into our needs, wants, and values. We miss a chance to figure out how to make something imperfect work for us. We lose the information and skills we need to be gritty and work through the inevitable challenges achieving our dreams will present.
3. There’s no such thing as a bad choice, or a real mistake
If life were like an Amazon shopping experience, whenever things didn’t workout, we could reverse our decision. We would have 30 days, sometimes longer with a Prime membership, to try something out and return it if we were less than 100% satisfied. Just pack it up, print a label and bring it to our nearest UPS drop-off location et voilà, no guilt, remorse nor regret.
But we make mistakes. Sometimes a lot of them and as a result, we feel like failures
In the Amazon world, everything is easy to return. In the real world, things aren’t that simple. Even when we think we know what we want, our wants and needs change over the course of our lives. Outcomes are uncertain and success is never guaranteed. The journey may be fraught with mistakes, setbacks, re-calibrations and slow progress, and there is no return policy for wrong choices.
It’s so easy to feel like a failure when we assume that everyone else just wakes up knowing what is going to make them happy and successful. It doesn’t take a psychologist to see that repeatedly setting goals, and then bailing on them when things gets hard not only reinforces a sense of helplessness and inadequacy, but also failure.
Anxiety + Early Bailing → Feeling like a failure
Overcoming the Amazon Effect
Unfortunately, the universe does NOT abide by the principles of the Amazon purchasing experience. Few things in life are as easy, efficient and immediate as buying a pizza stone or a set of cocktail glasses online. The discrepancy between our expectations, set by this incredible commercial machine, and our reality is causing some pretty serious issues.
But that’s not the way the world works. It takes time to know yourself well enough to consistently make choices that are right for you. It takes far more than the 18-21 years we seem give it. If you find yourself wondering what you should do (with your career, your relationships or your dreams) don’t panic! There is nothing wrong with you.
It can be hard to answer those bigger life questions, the process may seem painfully slow, or uncertain, but that’s the stuff of life. If you really feel like you have no idea what’s right for you, take a breath, slow-down, start with what you know, and go from there.
When you start figuring out what you need, act on that insight even if things seem uncertain and unpredictable. Practice your choices; assume that you will make mistakes, that sometimes you’ll choose a course of action or a create plan that’s not quite right. Practicing implies that running into those hurdles is not only normal, but essential to your growth and success.
Above all remember this, it takes time to change. It takes time to succeed at the things you want and need. Change is best achieved by taking small steps, allowing for multiple recalibrations, and practicing infinite patience in the face of the inevitable trial and error that eventually leads to success. While our career, relationship and life goals can’t be solved in one click, the good news is that you can still get that banana slicer you’ve always wanted on your doorstep by tomorrow…