Getting Stuck in Optionality
Sooner rather than later, we need to give ourselves to something or someone.
Many students want to “maximize optionality” in their careers, according to Mihir Desai, a professor at Harvard. Desai has noticed how this effort to acquire as many options as possible can often backfire. He writes:
“Instead of enabling young people to take on risks and make choices, acquiring options becomes habitual. You can never create enough option value—and the longer you spend acquiring options, the harder it is to stop.”
“These safety nets don’t end up enabling big risk-taking—individuals just become habitual acquirers of safety nets. The comfort of a high-paying job at a prestigious firm surrounded by smart people is simply too much to give up. When that happens, the dreams that those options were meant to enable slowly recede into the background. For a few, those destinations are in fact their dreams come true—but for every one of those, there are ten entrepreneurs, artists, and restaurateurs that get trapped in those institutions.”
There are downsides to maximizing optionality. During all the time we’re keeping our options open, we’re missing out on building something great. We can flounder for years—even decades—while getting stuck in optionality: