The Pull of Complexity

I want my life to stay simple. But I’m often torn between the ideals of simplicity and the temptations of complex options. As our lives evolve and mature, we are constantly filled with new challenges, opportunities, and decision points. The natural movement of life is toward complexity. Ironically, it actually takes effort to maintain a simple life and a relaxed mindset. If we forget to pay attention, we will default life into a sea of unfulfilling commitments and an unproductive, busy, and stressful lifestyle.

complex-664440_1280We rarely cull our responsibilities. If left without consideration, we often pile more and more onto our already full plates. Our default is to accept new opportunities. We often add activities, relationships, projects, and extra-curiculars without an end goal in mind. We don’t even properly evaluate our current commitments before we add more. Without conscientiousness, we are pulled into a life of complexity. But we still have a choice. If we take the time, we can identify, evaluate, and eliminate- so we are left with only the simple things in life that truly bring us joy. We must actively seek the optimal path for ourselves and direct our life course to it.

More Money, More Choices (More Problems?)
Most individuals increase their income over their working career. For most of the western world, consumption goes up right along with any raises or increase in net income. Although I’m personally in favor of keeping consumption consistent over time, I certainly wrestle with the possibility that exists when nicer and better are our options. The house? Car? Vacation? Groceries? School? Location? No matter how far up the ladder we climb, there will always be another rung. The tricky part is understanding that the more we spend the greater the options are, and- our appetites are never fully satisfied. When we increase our consumption and make fancier choices, they often come with added complexity as opposed to make our lives simple. The ‘excitement of new’ wears off but the complexity remains.

Does this item simplify or complicate my life? That is an interesting question to ask when trying to decide what needs to enter our home. That fancy blender seems cool on the infomercial but now just takes up counter space and storage. That puppy is cute and we love pets- should we get one? It can also be noted that many objects can do both. A fancy new smartphone can replace several different uni-tasking devices (GPS, calendar, iPod, etc) but add the complication of being always available. A backyard pool may make it easier to swim in the summer but adds year round responsibility. So when it comes to things we purchase, ask the question: Overall, does this object complicate my life?

Expectations are a funny thing. Watching them grow can be beneficial and painful at the same time. I enjoy see others (and myself) do more mentally or physically than expected. There is certainly enjoyment when expectations are exceeded. What I dislike is the internal realization that the things that made me happy once no longer bring the same joy. Experiences, foods, and purchases that once were exciting are now only ordinary. It is important to understand that we will always acclimated to our situations and we’ll always be tempted by a little more. As we move down the path of greater consumption, our lives become more complicated, but we end up with a similar level of happiness- just higher expectations.

Hard Decisions
At every phase of life we are tempted with life changing decisions. For most SE readers high school ends with the major choice of deciding where to go to college. The next phase is figuring out what we want to study and what we want to pursue as a first job. Should we get a pet? Have kids? What about moving, changing jobs, or transitioning into a career type position. Decisions are difficult and they do not subside over time. In fact, the implications of our choices often have larger effects as we age.

Money drives many of the decisions we make. Our jobs. Our homes. Our friends. Our commitments, careers, cars, and our location. Surprisingly, if you dig a little deeper, for the average person, you will find out exactly how much money influences the major decisions in their lives. And that is ok. It is certainly a useful consideration. But it is worth noting the relationship between our desires for more (or better) and the complexity they bring.

I’m coming to a crossroads in my life as I write. I’ll be finishing my PhD in financial planning soon, considering career transitions, having babies, debating kids’ school systems, and moving homes. Although many different factors will drive the end results, I’m forcing myself to consider the overall impact each decision has on the complexity of my life. I’m working to try to evaluate each option and opportunity with a holistic look of how much it will change my life. I want to ensure the trade off for complexity is worth the cost. I’m fighting to keep my life simple.

Fighting for Simplicity
I’m not sure if my goal is to simplify or maintain our current level of simplicity. I suppose I could do both. Inflection points (job change, move, kids) are often good times to evaluate all the various commitments and items in our life. Socially, depending on the week, I find myself waffling between fighting for a night off and planning exciting (but sometimes stressful and time consuming) time with the people I care about most. I currently enjoy the amount of time I get to spend with my wife and kids. I like seeing my immediate family regularly and I enjoy having a flexible job that provides great opportunities. But I still see complex, potentially exciting things within our reach. The house of our dreams, the big salaried job, the fancy out-of-town schools, and all the elaborate learning toys for the little ones. It’s all available and attractive. I’m just not sure if I’m willing to trade simplicity for the pull of complexity.

One thought on “The Pull of Complexity

  1. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there with the default option for most people being “Yes” to new opportunities. It’s almost like the opposite of the film/book “The Yes Man!” (whose initial default response to things was “No”.

    We need to reverse our default response to the opposite of “No” and then really consider what we are getting ourselves into before changing that to a Yes.

    The paradox of choice is definitely a strong feeling for me as well. I would much rather be presented with say 5 options when buying something (say, a phone) than the bamboozling hundreds that are out there. Maybe that is why the iPhone has been so popular?