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Memories and Musings: Decision Paralysis

By Gene Gallelli

Once upon a time (don’t worry this isn’t a fairy tale) what to have for breakfast didn’t make me anxious. Why? Because I didn’t have a choice; my mom decided. If it was a cereal day, I might be able to choose between the many cereals that came with a toy inside and whether I wanted a sliced banana along with a spoonful of sugar. But my choices ended there.

Some mornings mom would make pancakes or bacon and eggs or French toast or Cream of Wheat … without asking me what I wanted. But, so what? I loved them all and in no particular order.

Then one rainy day, the foreboding cloud of Adulthood loaded with responsibilities arrived and dumped on me. I wasn’t asked if I wanted that, either.

According to several sources – Google it – we make 35,000 decisions a day. Wow!

To make that many decisions in one day you would have to include scores of simple things, like: Walk to the fridge. Open the door. Look inside. Grab the milk. And, finally, close the door.

Obviously, many decisions are more complex and life-changing than the aforementioned.

Just for the heck of it, let’s examine a few of the complexities of breakfast decisions like those my Mom used to make.

If I decide to have cereal – okay, that’s a decision – which of the following five should I choose to drown in cold milk and a snowstorm of sugar: corn flakes, crispy rice, wheat that’s shredded, the flakes with sugar or the rainbow-colored ones? Mom would have quickly chosen one, poured the milk, drizzled the sugar and set it in front of me ready to eat. No choice or decision needed from me, although I might have asked unsuccessfully for more of the sugar.

But now, as I indecisively glare at the five cereal boxes staring back at me, I ask myself: Is there enough in that one to fill a bowl? Should I have the healthiest one? Are those stale? Did I ever have those before? Are we out of sugar?

With that many difficult decisions to make, I “decide” to eat an apple fritter, or blueberry muffin, or chocolate biscotti – decisions Mom would have quickly made.

Seriously, though, decision-making is a complex and, often, life-altering skill that requires sound, careful judgment and appropriate timing or decisiveness. After all, there is a huge difference between deciding on a breakfast cereal or choosing a career.

It’s a very early Sunday morning as I put the final touches on this nostalgic string of words, replete with endless little decisions: This word or that word? A period or an exclamation point? New paragraph? You get the point. However, I’m proud to admit that I have decided to have a second cup of coffee, orange juice, flakey cereal with blueberries, milk and a banana for breakfast. (I’ll be honest, I chose the cereal because it was new, the orange juice to have the last glass, the banana because they were getting too ripe and the second cup of coffee because I’m addicted to it.)

I’m ready now, I think, to start the debate with family on what to have for dinner … and I’m already feeling anxious.

Mom, where are you?

Help!

Gene Gallelli was Associate Superintendent of the Dare County Schools for eight years. He received his Doctor of Education degree from East Carolina University, where he taught and supervised students studying to become school administrators.

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