Josh Haas's Web Log

How I make decisions

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A couple days ago, I decided I wanted to stop working on KeywordSmart and move on to the next thing. My team was surprised; only a week before we had all met and discussed the game plan for the next few months, and I was as forceful and enthusiastic as anyone in hammering out our strategic direction.

I do this a lot. At least four or five people I’ve worked with closely have independently described me as “volatile.” At 2 pm, I think something is the greatest idea in the world, and at 5 pm, I have no interest in it whatsoever.

I’m reading Harlot’s Ghost by Norman Mailer, which is a highly literary take on the CIA. One of the characters — this seems to be a theme of the book — has a psychological theory that claims that every person actually has two separate complete personalities inside of them, each with their own memories, viewpoints, neuroses and passions. The further apart those personalities are, the greater the potential for deception, as well as greatness and insanity.

Although I don’t want to get too carried away by a metaphor (all Freudian, Jungian, and descendant psychological theories are metaphors for simplifying the complexities of inner life — at least, I’ve never seen any evidence that they are anything more than that), there’s something I relate to about having multiple personalities. It’s freeing. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to establish foundational principles for my decisions, enough to know that a logical approach is hopeless. Logic does not work like that. I keep trying, though, because the only alternative to logic is passion, which is equally fickle.

That’s how I can go from working on something for months and being gung-ho about it to suddenly changing my mind. I’ve learned to substitute obedience to past decisions in place of both passion and logic; otherwise, I’m too flighty and shifting to tie my shoes in the morning. But that’s an inflexible approach, and as the true course of what I want deviates, the pressure between the straight line and the curve becomes too much, and I snap. So I seem volatile to others (and to myself), because I do stuff I don’t really want to do for long periods of time, then at once reject my course and orient to a new one.

I am sick of living like this. The cost of forcing myself to go through the motions (and talking myself into believing in the motions: I act quite convincingly) is an amount I’m no longer willing to pay, even for consistency and balance and forward progress. It makes me heartsick and physically ill. I’m willing now to embrace chaos, have other people think I’m crazy, wake up in the morning not knowing quite what I’m going to do, because the alternative is too unbearable.

So that’s where multiple personalities helps. If I feel my fluctuations in desires and interests as two sides of me arguing, then my job as a free person is to be a mediator, to help them appreciate each other, and trust them to work together to do stuff that makes sense for me.

Navigating this way is like sprinting in the dark, at least in my unpracticed state. I’m trying to start up a new company, and I’m going to be persuading others to trust me with their time and eventually money. I’m terrified I’ll lead them on, then switch. I don’t trust myself to make commitments, because I’ve done it so badly.

So that’s my biggest act of faith right now. Faith that I can do this, that I can balance the sides of my personality and follow the twisting curve instead of the straight line. That if I trust my heart, I won’t be totally destructive to everyone around me. I’ll be honest, I really don’t know.

Written by jphaas

December 16th, 2011 at 8:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized