One Basket

When it comes to major decisions, you can’t base your entire choice on one metric. That seems obvious – but people do it all the time.

People say “I want the fastest car.” Or “I want the highest-paying career.” Or “I want to attend the most prestigious university.” They pick one metric, and pursue it relentlessly. And then they’re miserable.

Imagine saying you want the highest-paying job. You get a job offer for $200k per year, with 4 weeks’ vacation, in a field you have great passion for, with a smart and capable team. But you pass it up for a job you hate, with no flex time, a team of hateful misanthropes… but it pays $201k per year.

That’s an extreme example, but people do similar things all the time. Engineering probably pays more than painting, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be happier. And painting is probably less stressful than engineering, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be happier either!

In truth, we want a careful balance and mix of elements in our big decisions. I don’t just want the safest car. I want a car with the right mix of safety, price, cargo room, and other features.

If you get too hung up on relentlessly pursuing a single metric, you can bury yourself with unfavorable trade-offs. Maybe not as extreme as the example above, but bad enough that taken together they can make you really miserable.

Carefully measuring all of these trade-offs usually isn’t worth it on small decisions. When you’re figuring out what to eat for dinner tonight, feel free to pick “fastest” as your metric. It’s totally fine to buy the “cheapest” pair of sunglasses if you don’t really feel like worrying about it.

But major decisions? Things that have vast, rippling effects on huge swaths of your life? Don’t be a single-issue voter. Make a list of the things that matter and reasonable goals for each category, and mix and match until you find what works for you.

Here’s a tip: whatever the top example in any given category is, it almost always has terrible trade-offs for everything else. Care about the mix.

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