Choosing Wisely: Why the Quickest Route Isn’t Always the Best Option

Illustration showing multiple paths, highlighting the idea that the quickest route isn't always the best option.

“Life is about more than just going faster”

Gandhi, Mahatma

“A straight line is the quickest way to get from point A to point B.” This is taken directly from the geometry textbook I used when I was in the eighth grade, and if you can’t trust math, then what can you trust?

That proclamation set off my bells. My long-suppressed sentiment was finally given voice. The quickest route is the best one; what could be more honest or ideal?

Kids Say and Do the Silliest Things

When I was a teen, I made it a point to impose order and “straight lines” wherever possible. I awoke at a time that would allow me to shower, dress, eat, and get to class in the shortest amount of time possible. Being even a few minutes early was annoying, and being late was terrifying.

Every second of every day was planned out. I couldn’t stand for anything to happen on the spur of the moment; everything had to be planned out.

You might be thinking that I was one of those kids who took life too seriously, was too focused on the future, and had no sense of humor. Not so. I could hold my own at any party. However, even that revelry followed a strict agenda.

When I was still in high school at the age of sixteen, I decided to start college. The mornings were spent in college, while the afternoons were spent in high school. Not a thing; I had a plan for that.

It was only school, though. Similarly, I was employed. I worked as a computer programmer after school. After that, I was a nightshift McDonald’s cashier.

After hanging out with my pals for a while, I returned home to study before catching a short nap of three or four hours. I finished it, just to start again the next day.

I think you can guess where this is going. I believed I was being responsible and thrifty. I did put in a lot of time and effort, after all. I was trustworthy and conscientious. I was the light of the party, and my enthusiasm was contagious.

One day, however, I simply couldn’t get myself to go to work after class. I had my mother call in sick for me, and I crashed at 3:00. The following day, at 5:00 in the afternoon, after sleeping for 26 hours, I awoke.

Avoiding the Benefits of Past Mistakes

All of this may be explained by the naiveté of a teenager. Before reality hit me over the head with a board, I was in denial about how much sleep a young man needs.

Thankfully, my mother never felt the need to come in and wake me up. I’m sure there were a few times she made sure I was still alive, but otherwise she just let me deal with the fallout from my own choices.

As a result of this epiphany, I began sitting up straight and taking frequent breaks to pause and smell the flowers. Have I earned your trust?

Then we could wrap up this article, but alas, that is not the case. False; I took away the wrong lesson. The issue wasn’t with the efficacy with which I went about my work; rather, it was that I wasn’t working efficiently enough. (At least, I thought so.)

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For many years, I followed this pattern of relentlessly improving my efficiency, first to the exasperation of my parents, then to that of my wife, and finally to that of my children.

The Wrong Means to an End

Maybe you’re here because you’re hoping to hear about the “big event” that changed my perspective, but I have some frustrating information about that. This has dawned on me slowly over time. What else could you have done to get the point across if a 26-hour coma didn’t?

Nature and life proceed in their own ways. They may appear to be going around in circles to us, but our perspective is limited. To assume that our point of view is “the truth” is a grave mistake.

The universe is, at its core, incredibly effective. Not a single particle or photon is ever wasted. Do we have such inflated egos that we believe we can enhance such perfection?

Perhaps you’ve come to the conclusion that, although the cosmos may be flawlessly efficient, your own existence is falling short. Alternatively, you may feel that the universe’s concept of efficiency isn’t serving your best interests and that you should intervene.

You’re capable and have free will. It’s yours by right of birth. Your power to affect others and yourself is therefore bestowed on you.

However, when efficiency is prioritized above freedom and power, freedom is sacrificed and power is surrendered. When you try to take full control of a situation where it is more natural and advantageous for you to have only some control, you shut out the information that could help you.

However, I’m Assuming that Things are Different in the Workplace

My company was the last place I abandoned efficiency. That seems like a certain way to run out of money, no? The reverse is true, however.

The market is not subject to your whims. You can’t manage your rivals. You have no say over who buys from you, who the government regulates, what’s in style, the weather, etc. Don’t waste any more time trying.

The landscape is as fluid, mobile, and ever-evolving as you see it here. Don’t try to hold back the river when you can use its mighty current to your advantage and travel downriver.

So, these days, I try to keep a lighter schedule. A little more chaos and spontaneity were let in.

Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with any of those lifestyle choices—I haven’t become a monk or a flower kid. It’s simply that my journey necessitates an interest in both the microscopic and the cosmic.

To function at peak efficiency, you need not bring the world to its knees through dominance and control; all you need to do is be yourself. In such a case, the most direct routes will emerge. You won’t need to pick them because they’ll pick you.

So now I always get nine hours of sleep each night. I still live a full life, but I’m not so focused on constant activity. Being genuine is the most effective strategy, I’ve discovered.

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