Revealed Preferences: Why You (Really) Don’t Have Photo Albums

photo albumsJudith Warner had a nice post the other day on her blog, Domestic Disturbances.

The topic was expectations.

In recounting three different conversations she’d had that week, she’d come to terms with the fact that there were several areas in her life where she just wasn’t doing what she “ought” to be doing:

The weeds choking the garden. The hundreds of digital photos that no one has ever seen. The kid-art that hasn’t been hung. All these undone things, all these instances in which I Fail to Meet Expectations (according to the imaginary report card I update every day), derive their urgency for me from the sense that, if did meet performance standards, then I would be living my life to the fullest.

I could relate. I, too, walk around with what I call my “Panel of Elders” – a semi-circle of aging wise men who collectively monitor my every move. The Supreme Court meets Mt. Rushmore, if you will.

And there’s a lot to be said for Warner’s punchline:  that we just need to let go. Stop letting the perfect be the enemy of the good and all that.

Amen, sister.

Upon reflection, however, I think that the take-away point here extends beyond just lowering the bar. I think it’s also about being honest with ourselves about what we really enjoy and letting the rest fall by the wayside.

Economists have a wonderful concept – revealed preferences – which, in layman’s terms, means something like: “What you want is revealed by what you do, not by what you say.”

To take one of Warner’s examples, I actually know plenty of people who keep up-to-date photo albums or figure out some ingenious (and eye-catching) mechanism for storing their kids’ art projects. I’m just not one of them. Having never been a terribly “crafty” person, I just don’t like that sort of thing. (Which may explain why my own kids’ art projects currently spill haplessly out of a makeshift cardboard box. From time to time, rather than sort them out I simply dump a few into the trash, at which point my 5 year old invariably fishes them out as proof that I don’t really love her.)

By the same token, I always feel like I should be doing some combination of:  taking an art appreciation course…deciding what religion I ought to be…learning how to swim properly…re-reading the bible (Thank heavens David Plotz already has that last one covered for me.) The list goes on.

But when I’m honest with myself about who I really am (every third Thursday of every second month in leap year), I  recognize that I don’t actually enjoy most of those things. Or at least I don’t enjoy them enough to already be doing them. Or I would be.

So the next time you find yourself at war with your super ego over that avant garde French Film course you really should be taking (Is that just me??) – catch yourself and just say “no.” Or simply: “I don’t prefer.”

Image: Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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