Judith M. Bardwick, Ph.D.
Huge amounts of information are widely available and easily accessible, especially on the Web. With information readily available, there’s an increasing assumption that people are responsible for getting it and using it. The value of many intermediaries, like travel agents, declined because it’s become so easy to make plane reservations and get electronic tickets and book hotel rooms that many people stopped asking travel agents to do that for them and, instead, they do it themselves. That certainly includes us.
I had an experience, however, that suggests travel agents must not disappear. We took a trip to France, pursuing great food in Paris and Burgundy. As the person who was responsible for planning the trip, I read, surfed, highlighted, summarized, compared – and made reservations. Because it was summer, I chose air-conditioned hotels, but couldn’t find one in Dijon. I settled for a three-star hotel that was described in four recent guidebooks as “an extremely charming place,” a converted 17th century inn.
The exterior of the hotel was pleasant, but “charming” would be an exaggeration. The man who registered us was gracious, but not charming enough to help with the luggage. The sitting-dining area was pleasant but not enough to be charming. The elevator was too small to hold the two of us. The room was awful. The furniture was depressing. But that was nothing compared with the heat.
It was really hot in August and our tiny room had one tiny window. The window faced onto a totally enclosed courtyard, designed to protect 17th century travelers from bandits. There wasn’t a breath of air. We took five cold showers in two hours. When it was time to try and sleep we propped the door to the hallway open to catch any breeze, hoping we wouldn’t be robbed or killed.
The next morning we walked around Dijon and saw a large billboard that announced three brand new, air-conditioned hotels. Even though my information was current, it wasn’t right. A travel agent would have had better information because they would have access to information that the rest of us don’t have.
That incident made me realize that I don’t want to be responsible for knowing everything about everything. As much as I learned planning the trip to France, I didn’t know enough. I should have turned to an expert.
Even more important than getting the best information, I realized that in order to have some control in my life, I have to be able to choose what I’m responsible for knowing. Huge amounts of accessible information don’t make me free. Instead, they add to what I’m supposed to know and do. We have to be able to not know something about everything. Only then are we free from the responsibility of doing everything.
To regain a sense of having some control over what happens to us in a borderless world, we have to change anxiety, vague feelings of dread or panic, into specific issues we can do something about. To reduce our sense of overload, we need to delegate when that’s the right thing to do. And we need to know what really matters so we can set priorities and limit how much we have to do now! Lastly, to have a sense of control in unpredictable and demanding conditions, we need to develop enough confidence such that change is more exciting than it is scary. Confidence is the attribute that liberates us from fear.