how i know what i want, even as an indecisive person

How do you know what you want? This question has been ringing in my ears since yesterday. Someone asked me this in the context of making a decision, and as I thought about it, I was almost surprised at what I realized—in many ways, I have become someone who knows what they want.

I realize knowing what you want does not necessarily beget making a decision. But often, when presented with a choice you have to examine what you want. If you Google how to make a decision, there are just under one trillion results. In short, there is already plenty of discourse around both deep psychological viewpoints and small tricks to figure out what to do (like the cliche tossing a coin, and knowing what you’ll want midair). Some say you should always go with your gut; others, to never trust yourself. Some say to take as much time as you can to make a decision; others, to give yourself a strict deadline.

You don’t need me to tell you there’s an overload of choices, affecting our collective ability to choose not only what we are getting for dinner but also whom we will spend a week, months, or even years of our lives with. Freedom is often looked at as irrevocably good, but it can also be debilitating. It’s hard not to think of the character Chidi from The Good Place. (Teensy spoiler ahead). Chidi is a professor of ethics who dies because of his own inability to make a decision. Until this reveal, the character flaw had been amusing. But in the end, his indecision is his choice, and ultimately leads to his death.

Often we don’t know what we should do but we still have to act, even with an indeterminate timeline. Chidi is an example that, while fictional, at some point you must decide. The common discourse is to never settle; and yet, psychologically we tend to be happier if, in a way, we do. Would our decision-making agony be alleviated if we can just alter the connotation of settling? It is often looked at as a passivity; perhaps it’s time to start looking at it as an active choice. And maybe, like an old boss once told me while I was agonizing over the woes of romance in your 20s: if a decision is very difficult, there probably isn’t a wrong choice.

I’ve historically been an indecisive person—who also likes to plan. It’s almost as if I know the big picture of what I want, but am not quite sure how to get there. And so, I often seek advice. Lately, I’ve wondered if this tendency points to a weakness in my character. Do I fundamentally distrust my decision-making abilities? Can I consume so much—even too much—advice that I lose track of my own thoughts in a convoluted tangle of advice columns, opinions from well-meaning friends, and the occasional self-help book?

I suppose in the end I look at advice in the same way I look at things like horoscopes and tarot cards: as tools, but not irreversible truths. They can help you look at something through a different lens, or think of solutions from a new perspective. Like with advice, these tools don’t necessarily give you answers, but they can help you ask the questions you need to find your way to some semblance of an answer. And while I might look to external sources for wisdom, I have to trust that I can always find my way through the knotted mess in my brain to the thread of my own thoughts.

So, I suppose my answer to my friend is layered. From the romantic context of what I was being asked, I know that I’m looking for a partner. Not someone who is perfect, not a Prince Charming, but someone I can just be with. And I think I’ve reached a place where if I find that person, I can recognize it. From a broader perspective, I don’t always know if I’m making the very best decision (if that even exists). Nor can I be sure the advice I seek will be what I’m hoping to hear. But I do know at a certain point indecision is itself a choice. And that even if I don’t always know exactly what I want, I’ve reached a point where I can figure out almost exactly what I want—and maybe, for now, that is enough.