Our new favourite addiction: doorkeeping

Future of Thinking

My first job was as a stamp collector. Not the kind that is an archaeologist of postal history. The kind that values stamps of credibility more than anything else. My first JOB job was actually working on the shop floor of a high street optician. But growing up in the UK as the daughter of two immigrants, I became laser focused on stamp collecting as a means to (1) make their hard work worthwhile and (2) feel a greater sense of belonging in an environment where I often felt out of place.

But after collecting my first stamp at the University of Oxford and then scooping up a second at LinkedIn, I suddenly stopped collecting stamps. I realised that the pursuit of societal stamps of approval wasn’t actually enabling me to take risks or double down on anything I really believed in. No. It was just making me a world-class acquirer of safety nets. Boy, was I good at that (and no, Mum, I’m not going back to LinkedIn). Safety Net Acquisition is one of the more common immigrant professions because it allows you to maximise optionality while reducing risk. But what does the potent lure of optionality not want us to know?

I like to think of optionality as having the temporary right to tentatively step through many doors with one foot. In contrast, commitment is feeling obliged to choose one immediately, jump through and slam the door behind us without a second glance. Ideally you’d have a healthy balance of both, and hopefully in that order. But now, teetering at the edge of a doorframe has become our new favourite addiction.

Why? Because we outsource our taste and decision-making to algorithms, influencers, and cancel culture-wielding echo chambers, which offer us an endless supply of tantalising options. We don’t gift ourselves the headspace, time or blissful boredom to figure out which doors are actually important to us, let alone whether we want to open or close them. Better to cut our losses and teeter.

But the longer we outsource our decisions, the more exposed we become to new options, the stronger our fear of commitment gets and the more hazy our true desires become. It therefore becomes easier to continue outsourcing our decisions and relentlessly pursuing optionality. A self-perpetuating cycle.

What magic might unfold if we were to reframe our conception of commitment and give ourselves the space to uncover our true preferences?

February 7, 2024