Ambivalence in Amsterdam

June 19, 2006

I’m currently in Amsterdam where I’ll be attending a symposium at the end of the week.  I decided to take a few days off to spend a little time being a tourist and I can safely say right now I’m overwhelmed by ambivalence.  This morning as I sat in the garden of the magnificent turn of the (20th) century canal house that I’m staying in, I couldn’t say I wanted to move out of my seat to experience all the goodies that the city has to offer. There’s a little voice in my head suggesting that this isn’t quite what a holiday in Amsterdam has to offer and wouldn’t I be better off getting my act together, my walking shoes on, guide book in hand and getting out and about.
I’m not normally stricken by ambivalence, so of course I’m curious about what’s going on and it occurred to me that I’m overwhelmed by the choices on offer….There’s simply too much to choose from and I don’t feel adequately equipped to make the right choice so “hiding” in the back garden seems to me, right now to be the most adequate choice I can make.
It reminds me of working with a coaching client recently who, likewise, was faced with a number of (far more important, it has to be said) choices in her work environment.  No matter what kind of work we did together – she kept presenting me with her ambivalence.  Nothing was good enough so nothing was acted upon.
After a while I realised (as I did with myself a few hours ago) that ambivalence is the choice not to choose and in circumstances where people are overwhelmed by the choices available, choosing not to choose is the right response.  So when we’re faced with clients or colleagues who seem to be “stalling” on making a decision there are times when it’s appropriate to inquire into how challenged they may be by the projected outcomes of their decisions.  In my case I’m faced with “wasting my time in Amsterdam” by choosing the absolute “wrong” way to spend my time or choosing to re-frame the situation as doing myself a favour by sipping another glass of white wine in the garden and refusing to choose how to spend the time outside the front door.
Choosing not to choose is sometimes the last recourse of perfectionists who fear making the wrong choice and having to deal with the attendant fall out.  Those of us who are recovering perfectionists re-frame the situation as “any choice is good enough” and we then go to the Rembradt exhibition at the Rijksmuseum, followed by some retail therapy.  Oh that life were filled with choices that are that taxing! 

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