Shoes & Figs

I recently listened to the audiobook for Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance. The section of the book that most interested me was the discussion about the psychology behind choices, which I had already been thinking about lately. Most people would say having a variety of options and large quantity of options is positive, but too many choices causes anxiety and indecision in some.

Psychologist Herman A. Simon calls people who are always searching for the best choice “maximizers.” Maximizers hinder their own happiness by always second-guessing their choices and imagining how things could be different if they made different choices. They have trouble seeing the potential for happiness in front of them, because they are so wrapped up in the fictional lives they are living if they where with this person or went to this college or choose that career path or learned a foreign language when they were young, etc.

Take for instance my hunt for the perfect pair of black booties to replace my old worn out pair. I have bought and returned four pairs of black booties I accepted at the store, but disliked later on. I have tried on close to 40 pairs of shoes and spent hours searching online for the perfect replacement. (Unfortunately, the shoes are so old I can’t just buy the same pair.) Right now, I’m in month six of the hunt, and I’m still shoeless. What could I be doing with my life if I wasn’t exerting all this energy into shoe hunting?

I have a tattoo on my foot of a fig tree. It’s based on this passage from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath:

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

TLDR; protagonist Esther Greenwood was frozen by the paradox of choice.

When people ask me what my tattoo means, I often say that it’s in essence “carpe fig.” You can have what you want, but you just got to reach up into the tree and pluck it. And that’s true, but it’s also a reminder for me to remember that if I don’t choose a fig eventually I won’t have anything at all. It’s a reminder to be a person of action and not a stagnant person frozen by indecision.

But I still struggle with it.

Maybe when I’m in a better place I’ll get a new tattoo. One of just a fig. It would mean that I’ve chosen a life, and I’ve chosen to be happy with it, savor it, not worry about the other figs.

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