I’ve got an unusual approach to stress. When I face a dilemma I don’t drink, exercise, pray, put my foot down, take a pill, meditate, go into denial, lose sleep, talk people’s ears off, take action, run away howling, watch TV, tell jokes nervously, get depressed, or assume I’m an idiot.

I mean I do a little, but mostly I cope by getting fascinated. See, I’m a professional dilemma expert. I’m fascinated by the nature of dilemmas, tough judgment calls, and that space between rocks and hard places we find ourselves in from time to time. I’m interested in how they work, where they come from, and what they make us want to do. I’ve got a background in economics, psychology, biology, and philosophy and out of all of those years studying, dilemmas became my favorite research topic.

Mind Readers Dictionary: The Podfast : Play in Popup

Mind Readers Dictionary : Play in Popup


So each dilemma I face is a golden opportunity to learn a little more about what interests me most. And as a coping strategy, that fascination is really the best. There’s such sustainable peace of mind in it. With every bet I place, it’s my guaranteed win. Even when my bets don’t pay off I still gain insights.

Dilemmas, it turns out, are older than you think. Even the earliest life forms faced them. So when you’re in a dilemma, you’re carrying on a venerable tradition. They’re also universal. All of life faces them. So when you face one, you’re being one with all of life, not some idiot exception.

Everything we learn, we learn in order to deal with fundamental dilemmas. Like when to be open and when to be closed. Being open to dangerous things can kill you, but being closed to nourishing things can kill you too. So we learn, or at least try to learn the difference between dangerous and nourishing things. Like that old prayer says, we wish for the wisdom to know the difference between things we can and can’t change. Why? Because we face a dilemma. Trying to change what can’t be changed can kill you, but so can accepting what can and needs to be changed.

And though for me dilemmas are a profession, I’m still amazed by how little attention other people give them. I don’t mean getting lost in the details of a particular dilemma. People do that all the time. I mean thinking about dilemmas as patterns, their shapes and contours, the regularities common to all dilemmas.

See, to me, no world-view is truly life-size—reliable enough to cover you for your whole long-legged life, unless it includes a rich understanding of dilemmas. Dilemmas are as certain as death and taxes. Anyone who’s planning to be around a while should be interested in them.

Those other coping strategies can be fun, diverting in their way. But getting fascinated by dilemmas—that’s what I bet on. It helps me learn faster, place better bets and feel better about the bets I place. What more could I ask for? The elimination of all dilemmas? Not really an option, is it?