| Life Lab |

Decisions, Decisions 

Decision making is exhausting. What if I get other people to make them for me?


The opening line to this piece got way more complicated than I anticipated.

I wanted to quote a statistic on the number of decisions individuals make a day, so, of course, I googled it, and the number that came up was 35,000.

That seemed a bit high. I went a little further down the search results and there was a link to a discussion about that number. Hello Google rabbit hole, I’ve come to visit you. To summarize: The accuracy of that stat is contested; no one can find the source for it.

Still, even if it’s off by ten or twenty thousand, that’s a lot of decisions each day. Some are deliberate, others made almost by default. And then there’s the insecurity about the decisions!

I don’t know about you, but I find all the daily decision-making a little annoying; okay, make that overwhelming. I wondered if life would be easier if I would just do what other people told me to do.

So that’s what this Life Lab is — me crowdsourcing decisions for a week so I don’t have to think anymore.

How It Went Down

I created a WhatsApp chat by going through my contacts, adding around 35 people from a wide range of backgrounds. I didn’t want these decisions to be an echo-chamber consensus. I had people from my childhood, co-teachers, old students, old friends, new friends, people from my community.

I put in my mother and my mother-in-law after a moment’s hesitation (yes, I like to stir the pot, lightly). I also put in my sisters and sisters-in-law, so I had to make sure I kept the conversation away from certain topics that cut too close, like Should I call my sister back? She’s annoying me today, or more like Should I call my mother? (No!)

At the start of the chat there was discussion over the type of decisions the group would be allowed to make. My friend, who has three large (and beautiful) dogs, asked, “What if the kids asked for a dog? Did you pick this group carefully?”

I laughed because my kids would love to get a dog, but I have a strict no-pets rule (I don’t even allow carnival goldfish). It’s not in the realm of being a decision for me — it’s no. Just no. I also wasn’t going to ask things like should I quit my job? I’m not relying on the crowd for that, sorry.

Another common comment early on was, “I’m always happy to tell people what to do; it’s easier than making my own decisions.” It’s like there’s clarity when it comes to other people’s lives, but what’s right or wrong when it’s your own life is murky. That made me wonder if we all overthink our own lives, or is it that others just don’t appreciate the variables at stake?

The first decision outsourced: Car pool. Should I show up to car pool early, wait on line a little bit, and get the kids as soon as school ends, or should I show up to car pool late so I don’t have to wait on line, even though that means the kids will have to wait for me?

Hold it!

Think of what you’d suggest before continuing to read. Got it? Read on!

Most people said I should arrive early, which shocked me. Honestly, I was just looking for confirmation here, but no, apparently, I know a lot of concerned moms who don’t want to make their kids wait. But I’m thinking — I don’t want to wait in an endless snaking line; my kids at least have each other to play with. Also, if I leave late, there’s more time for me at home. Alone. Did you read that? Alone. How could everyone else not appreciate that?

I must add that some chose to go early not out of parental but personal reasons, like, “Sitting in traffic gives me dark thoughts, so I’d rather go really early and get there first than deal with the crazy, crazy line,” said one old friend. My sister, a former preschool teacher, answered, “Teachers do have favorites, and they hate moms who never show up on time.” So she’s an early bird.

Then my friend Sarah made a comment I so related to: “Even if I have a preference, I’ll still keep kicking the question around all day.” Yup, guilty as charged. Seriously, why do I do that to myself? Why can’t I make a decision and be done with it? I’m a glutton for punishment, aren’t I?

I got to school early and snagged the second-to-last “early” spot and of course, I waited and waited and waited. The kids took forever to come out… totally not worth arriving early (just saying).

The next decision I needed to make was when I was on another endless line — I asked if I should listen to a podcast, the news, or music. Most people said I should listen to music and sing along and make hand motions to boot. I obliged. No one saw me, oh well, but I put on a nice show.

I had kinda hoped they’d pick podcasts. I’m a podcast junkie, but my BFF rolls her eyes very deliberately every time I mention podcasts, and says, “They’re pretentious and weird.” Oh well, Benny Friedman wasn’t too shabby.

The last decision of the day was cliché: What should I wear? I was going out to eat for the first time since COVID hit, so any old sweater wouldn’t do. I posted a few options. Bad idea. First, there was no consensus, and then people began creating new outfits for me. “Wear that with brown knee-high boots,” “Put on a blazer,” “Add a chunky necklace.”

I ignored them, but at the last minute posted a picture of a shaggy cardigan I was wearing because it was supposed to be cold out. I checked my phone when I got into the car. The messages were furious. “A furry rug? Wear something else,” “Put your leather jacket on.” When I informed them that I’d already left the house, they were mad. I’d gypped them out of making a decision for me.

“We get to choose what you order,” my sister wrote.

“No one is touching my food, but you can choose my drink,” I offered as a truce. I was instructed to get both the prettiest drink and the one with the highest alcohol content.

The evening was lovely. Thanks for asking.

As for the drinks, I followed my instructions dutifully and asked the waiter which drinks fulfilled my needs. He pointed to the prettiest one, and then chose another one, and said, “They’ll just add another shot to bring up the alcohol content.” I shrugged and waited.

The double-shot one was delicious, but the pretty one, well, “sheker hachein v’hevel ha’yofi.” It was lavender in color, frothy on top, served in a rounded martini glass, and garnished with some reddish flakes lined up in a row.

I took a sip and nearly spat it out. It tasted like potpourri, and I associate potpourri with bathrooms. The lavender wasn’t so pretty anymore… another bombed decision.

The next day, I asked what to make for supper. I ended up making fully loaded burgers, thank you, Dassy. And of course, I was overloaded with recipes, because everyone has something to say about that. I was nervous we’d devolve into being like every other chat with frum women — endlessly discussing recipes — and was holding my breath waiting for someone to ask if anyone knew of an available cleaning lady. I shut that one down. This was a focused, serious chat.

The next question I asked was what I should do first on my to-do list. I had things like call insurance, buy chips, fold laundry, write a homepage, course prep, tech update research. Everyone said I should go out and buy the chips. Or call insurance while I was in the car on the way to the store to buy said chips.

I listened to the advice and left to buy chips, but really, really wondered if they’d prioritize buying chips if it was their own life. It’s so easy to prescribe self-care to other people, though, for the record, the chips weren’t for me. Also, if anyone knows where I can buy D’vash Mesquite BBQ chips on a consistent basis, I will gladly gift you my firstborn.

Next up, should I wear a sheitel or tichel to my writing course that night? Consensus: a sheitel. One person dissented just to have an opposing view. It was decreed I was only allowed to wear a tichel if it covered my eyebrows. Shkoyach.

The chat got interesting the next day when I had a business question. A client didn’t get back to me about a draft I’d sent him, even though I’d asked him multiple times for feedback and comments. My dilemma: Should I email him again today or wait until tomorrow?

Most said call tomorrow, their line of thinking being that I shouldn’t come across as that pushy lady. My friend Raizy messaged me privately and commented, “Oh my gosh, these people don’t really do business.” And they don’t. Most are employees or STAHMs. No one is running their own business, as Raizy is.

Back on the decision chat, she wrote, “I don’t think you want to hear this, but you need to put on your big girl pants and send an email with a deadline. Say something like, ‘I hope you found my work to your liking. Please remit payment ASAP. If you have any questions, please submit by the end of the week.’ ”

I had another business-minded friend, Esther, suggest that in future contracts, I include a time frame for feedback, and if there’s no response, it’ll signal that the job is completed. That was actually helpful.

I was back to making supper. I really hate making supper every single, bingle day. I posted a request for ideas on the group and we had Recipes Round Two. I ended up making shawarma — thanks for the idea, Bracha! My friend Shonny posted a recipe for Chinese chicken that I made the next night, so that was useful. My sister-in-law Elisheva messaged me to say she’d made that, too. I think we might officially be a recipe chat. Blech.

We got into a discussion about the problem with supper — that there’s always tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. (Yes, I’m stealing from Macbeth with that line.) And then there’s lunch and snack and snack and snack. And, oh my gosh, everyone hates this constant cycle of food, food, food. It felt validating that it wasn’t just grumps like me who don’t like it; everyone is frustrated.

The next question I asked was should I go to sleep now (it was 11:05 p.m.) or work more so I could work less tomorrow? I was told to embrace sleep “that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care.” (That’s again from Macbeth discussing the virtues of sleep, after he killed the sleeping King, for those of you who aren’t English teachers.) I did.

Next up was if I should offer writing workshops in Lakewood on Motzaei Shabbos on short Shabbosim. That was a long discussion, but ultimately left undecided. What do you think?

The next day I had another business decision. I was halfway through the copy of a start-up company’s website, and the client messaged me asking for a two-sentence bio for Instagram. Do I tell her nicely that this isn’t part of the contract or my job, or just do it because it takes less than five minutes?

To be totally transparent, I also posted this question on a copywriters’ group to get their professional opinion, and they came to the same conclusion as my decision-making group did: Because it doesn’t take much time, I can throw it in for free, but let them know I’m doing them a favor. So that’s what I did. Problem solved.

This did lead to a larger discussion about doing this in different industries. Seems it’s not the solution all around. My mother-in-law, aside for being a teacher, is an amazing seamstress. She said she charges per button. “People think ‘it’s just a button’ but it’s not, it’s time, and I can’t be doing chesed on my family’s cheshbon,” she maintains. That’s one way to look at it.

I told my sister to ignore the next question. She was making an upsheren, and I polled the crowd: Did I have to get a “Jewish” gift or would any gift cut it? The survey said any gift was fine. I bought a pattern block toy from Target; it looked educational and pretty.

When I came home, I realized I had no wrapping paper. I didn’t have to poll the group for that one. I knew the answer; I had to wrap it. So I made my own wrapping paper out of thick paper taped together. It actually looked really cool, creative, and classy, but I still think it’s ridiculous that I felt I had to do it.

I didn’t ask anyone about what I should wear to the upsheren because I knew what I wanted to wear. There were a few times when I chose not to ask because I didn’t really want anyone else’s answer. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, even if I felt hesitant about going through with it.

Along with a bunch of other minor decisions, that concluded the experiment. I was back to just winging it alone.

The Results

On the way home from the upsheren, I reflected on the experiment. It was interesting to note how when it came to some questions, the responses were completely unanimous, and for others, completely divided. People erred on the side of self-care for others, but I don’t know if they would have decided that way for themselves.

I learned that I’m a lot more decisive than I thought, but like Sarah said, I keep revisiting the issue. I also noticed that most of the questions I had for the group were things I just wanted confirmation for, that what I’m doing is okay and that I’m kind of in line with the rest of the world. I’m not sure why I need that security, but I guess I do. Or maybe the question itself projects to the world, “Hi, I’m normal, and I have normal people issues.”

It was interesting to see different perspectives on the business side because this is a new area for me, and I can use all the help I can get.

What’s also interesting to note were the questions I didn’t ask the group, but should have, if I really wanted to get a good discussion going. Someone wrote something on LinkedIn that really offended me. I didn’t poll the group asking if I should speak up or not, because I knew I’d likely be told to behave, it’s not a big deal, and men will be men.

But I didn’t want to “behave”; some things need to be addressed. Standing on the side smiling isn’t always the best course of action. I messaged the person privately, we had a good discussion, and it was actually productive. I was happy I went with my gut.

I guess that leaves this: All my doubting of my decisions is really a form of confirmation bias — I’m going to interpret all advice the way I want to hear it because I desperately need others’ validation of my choices.

Oy, I gotta work on my self-esteem.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 724)

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