A decision had to be made. That much was clear from the moment the man’s phone alarm jolted him upright, a rude awakening in more ways than one. As he motioned to silence the blaring tones, an overwhelming sense of dread consumed his being. The previous night, he had decided to “sleep on it”. However, after the reprieve left him a day older and none the wiser, he chastised himself for believing in the conventional wisdom that a few hours of shut-eye would initiate some brilliant enlightenment, ceasing the clutter in his mind and manifesting a solution to the quandary at hand. No revelatory seeds had sprouted overnight, having been watered in the serene interlude between conscious hours. There would be no marked change in thought processes — just a temporary respite that had now been shattered by the alarm’s raucous disturbance of the peace.
Truthfully, he had known the likely futility of the sleeping exercise. Yet, the idea of an escape was so alluring that he was willing to forego logic in favor of comfort. But now, the new day had reestablished the permanence of the situation, represented in a simple truth: a decision had to be made.
So, with the goal of making said decision, the man stumbled out of bed and into the shower to begin his daily routine. Despite the luxury of it being a weekend, he impressed himself by refusing to laze around, instead adopting a working mindset in getting ready for the day. Doing so would allow him to begin the decision-making process quicker and eliminate all potential distractions. He absolutely would not allow himself to linger.
But whilst eating breakfast, he couldn’t help but notice how isolated he felt from the world around him. A brief scan of the news revealed a seemingly unending barrage of names, places, and events, of which he could barely hope to absorb a minuscule percentage. Just beyond the mostly barren walls of his shabby apartment, he could faintly hear a songbird’s tune.
This combination of stimuli made it painfully apparent that as much as he wished otherwise, the world would not stop for him to make his decision. There was no way to carefully consider alternatives as time stood still, patiently waiting for him to arrive at a conclusion satisfactory enough to warrant the resumption of the universe. Every moment he spent in contemplation, stock prices rose and fell like tides as babies were born and former babies passed away. This was merely the way of things. Some people found comfort in this shared experience of the circle of life, but for the man, the apathetic nature of existence was paralyzing, rendering his decision purposeless. How could he be expected to act, knowing that nothing would ultimately change as a result of him doing so?
Jarred by this development, the man left his apartment to go on a walk, in search of something to make him feel alive once more. He first passed through the local park, admiring the joggers’ dedication as they powered through the heat. If they could remain motivated enough to work out without any obligation to do so, certainly he could find it within himself to do something that had to be done eventually. He then came to his old school and thought about how much he had grown and everything he had done to reach this present moment. Surely, he could find meaning in that. Finally, the man swung by an ice cream shop, where he saw a mother and her young child. The child’s face was covered in the delicious goodness, and the two couldn’t stop laughing at each other. Maybe he would become a father one day, the man wondered. The future was full of possibilities. There was only one way to reach them — a decision had to be made.
If life was a string of decisions, his reluctance to act at this moment was preventing him from progressing. But if that was true, wouldn’t acting only bring him one decision closer to his inevitable death? The reason many decisions are so difficult to make is that they involve change, which disrupts the status quo, taking us out of our comfort zone. The man desperately wanted to hold onto life the way it was, even though he knew the impossibility of that notion and how foolish he was for desiring it.
A decision had to be made, and by this point, every step only served to compound his self-loathing for not already having made it. But truthfully, there was no clear solution. If there was, there would be no predicament, along with the stress and anguish that coincided with it.
That’s the thing with decisions. Throughout our lives, we have to make them all the time. But often, we don’t have the information necessary to choose the best option. How could high school students, for example, possibly know which college, out of potentially every school in the world, is right for them? Or if college is right for them at all? They don’t. Instead, they use shortcuts — schools close to them, where their parents went, campuses they get good vibes from or can receive scholarships or financial aid to go to. Et cetera. That only leads to a justifiable answer, not necessarily the correct one. Higher education is an educated guessing game. But we lock in those guesses because decisions have to be made.
Even once the decision is made, it’s impossible to know if it’s correct. Even if a student is happy where they end up, who’s to say they wouldn’t be happier or more successful somewhere else? Most of our decisions are this way. When hindsight isn’t even 20/20, what’s the point of trying?
The man debated giving up his power of choice altogether in favor of flipping a coin to end his troubles. However, doing so felt like an insult to the gravity of the decision at hand and so he rejected the idea. By now, he was back in his apartment. Several hours had passed, and he was both physically and mentally exhausted from the ordeal. The man turned on the television, eager to turn off his brain for a while. There is little tougher than being alone with your own thoughts. He briefly questioned whether he had really earned this break, but once again, the idea of an escape overpowered any other feeling. And besides, the weight wouldn’t be fully lifted — problems tend to linger in the back of an idle mind.
He fought to return to his sole task for the day, but it was a one-sided fight. Another episode, another video, another game. Operations would resume after just one more. Of course, this was a convenient lie to satisfy his procrastinatory intentions. Could he really be blamed? The process of researching, thinking, and deciding was not an easy one. It required considerable energy and was rather time-consuming. At this stage, he just lacked the conviction necessary to return to business.
The deeper into the evening it went, anything proved to be a worthy distraction. The man decreed it was laundry night in an effort to seem productive. He hadn’t called his parents in a while, either. And that table wasn’t going to fix itself. It didn’t end up fixed at all. Perhaps he was saving it for a future excuse.
As the day concluded, with no tangible progress having been made except for that which he managed to convince himself in a fleeting attempt to maintain sanity, the man resigned himself to his bedroom to put an end to a chapter which would almost certainly be rewritten the following day. There was still a decision to be made, but he had decided to sleep on it.
Connor Groel is a writer who studies sport management at the University of Texas at Austin. He also serves as editor of the Top Level Sports publication on Medium, and the host of the Connor Groel Sports podcast. His book, “Sports, Technology, and Madness,” is available now. You can follow Connor on Medium, Facebook, and Twitter, and view his archives at toplevelsports.net.