On Making Choices

If I were standing before you, you would not see an NBA center. I am too short to be an NBA center. But my height was not my choice, and is just one example of something in life that is beyond our ability to choose.

But what about all the things in life that we can control by the choices we make? Many think a choice is simply choosing between preexisting options; a fork appears in the road of life. Do you turn to the left, or to the right? Do you choose to purchase Product A, or Product B? This view of what choice means is too restrictive, too narrow, for every circumstance we meet in life.

Here, we take a different view of choice. We define choice as the ability to create.

Why?

Because you don’t have to choose between just what you happen see in front of you.

You can also choose to create a new option. You are not limited to choosing between an existing apple or an orange. True choice means recognizing you have the option to plant an entirely new fruit tree, and eat the fruit of this new tree.

Why fall into the trap of thinking choice is only about choosing between options that you can currently see, feel, or touch? This is a too narrow, restrictive, view that denies choice is also about creation. Animals are stuck with choosing only between options that exist. Are we animals? All a gopher can choose between is to dig a new hole to live in, or pick a hole that is already dug. Can a gopher choose to build a house, instead of living in a hole? No. A bear can choose to swim across the river, or not swim. But can a bear choose to build a bridge to cross the river? No.

As a human being your choices are not limited like an animal. You don’t have to live with, “the way things are.” You are not stuck as you are unless you choose to be stuck as you are. There are always at least two paths to choose from, but understand this: One path is always easy, and it’s only reward is that it was easy. If you limit yourself to only what seems easy, you compromise yourself. You disconnect yourself from what is best for you, and all that is left is compromise choice after compromise choice.

If we step back in time, when we were little children our choices were few to non-existent because our parents (or some adult) did their duty and were making the choices for us. We were diapered up and cared for. We were told what to eat, what to wear, when to get up, when to go to bed. As small children the choice of what to do was made for us by others, which eliminated our own personal responsibility for the decision and the outcome.

In my case, until I was nine years old I grew up in Los Angeles near Manchester Ave. and 77th Street. Naturally, as a child your parents choose where you live, but it didn’t much matter to me as a little kid. I had my little kid friends on the block, and life was good. Then we moved to Torrance. Nobody asked for my opinion about moving to Torrance, but mostly nobody asks a nine year old for their opinion on anything.

But as we grow older, the responsibility for making all the choices in our daily life is gradually transferred from our parents to be entirely on us. There are no others to claim the fame for our wise and correct decisions, just as there are no others to blame for our choices gone wrong. At the end of the day, nobody ever did, and nobody ever will, escape the consequences of his own free will choices. We will all stand before God in this manner.

My life is the sum total of the choices I have made, and the same goes for everyone else. Those that engage in the blame game and fail to take personal responsibility for where they have been in life, for where they are today, and for where they are headed tomorrow, will remain lost and not even know it. It’s just this simple: Whether we recognize it or not, every choice we make moves us closer to, or farther away, from something.

Who is responsible for the choices affecting your life? YOU ALONE ARE RESPONSIBLE. Who made the choices that determined who and where you are right now? YOU DID. Who will make the choices that determine who you are tomorrow? YOU WILL. Why continue to accept the nonsense that some people will continue to sell you and manipulate you with?  Why not accept the responsibility for thinking for yourself? I’m sure you understand there will always be someone to hold you back, put you down, or mislead you. Pay no attention to them, and consider this:

Perhaps a change in your life is worth considering? One definition of insanity is to repeat the same thing over and over, and expect a different result. You’re not going to get a different result if you keep choosing to do the same things, with the same people.

Since there are no do-overs in life, since we can’t change the past, would you like to change your future? Do you understand the future is not some place you are traveling to? What is the future? The future is a place you are creating right now. Let me repeat that: The future is not some place you are traveling to--- the future is a place you are creating right now.

All of you are talented at something. It wasn’t your lack of talent that got you where you are--- it was your choices about how to use your talent that got you where you are, or are not, in life. Until you acknowledge your choices put you where you are, you will remain stuck where you are. And I don’t mean physically stuck; I mean mentally.

Some of you might think there can be no change while stuck in the messed up circumstances of your life today. But you misunderstand--- those are externals, not internals. Those are not the changes I am referring to--- I am talking about choosing to change who you are on the inside, not your external surroundings. You can choose to change who you are on the inside at any time you make up your mind to do so.

Thanks be to God I don’t have any a legacy of misery as examples to relate to you about my life. Sure, I’ve made some bad choices, but I’m not going ask you to relate to my pain because I got caught stealing a candy bar, and had to sit in the corner. But then I realized something: I don’t have to use a bad choice as an example. You can make the same point that needs to be made now, by using a good choice. So I’m going to take the good choice path. Instead of talking about a bad choice and what I learned from it--- don’t use drugs, don’t sell drugs, don’t drink and drive, don’t steal stuff, don’t beat your wife or your girlfriend, and then explain why making bad choices is bad, I’m going to talk about making a good choice, in order to teach you a key formula to living a better life. This formula explains the difference between how you make a good choice, or a bad one.

I think like many adults, I don’t much care for following rules without a reason. That’s just my nature. Nevertheless, I was a rule follower for the first ten years of my working career. But after those first ten years a choice fell into my lap: Should I keep working as an employee for the rest of my life, or should I quit my job and risk everything I have to start my own business

To paint the picture, all the following questions end with the same answer:

Did I have enough money to start my business? Had I ever owned a business before? Had I ever managed a business before? Did I have any sales experience? Had I ever hired or fired anyone before? Did I know anything about accounting? Did I know where to locate my business? Did I have a banker, lawyer, or accountant? Did I know anything about franchising?

Of course the answer to every question was, “No.”

So given these facts, what choice did I make? I did start my own business, but that’s not the important point. The important point is how I made that choice.

You see if I didn’t stop and think things through I would have been too afraid to start my own business. All of the obstacles in front of me would have kept me from making the right choice, just because I failed to think it through and reacted to the first “No” that popped into my mind.

But that small voice that is within all of us said to me, “Mike, if you step back and think this through--- you can make this work.” So, my response was not to react, but to research. I didn’t run back to my safe job. You see, a reaction is an emotional reflex. A response is a reasoned, considered, movement.

Am I wrong to think that at some moment before you made bad choices in your life, a small voice within you said, “Stop. This is wrong. Don’t do this”? But you did it anyway, didn’t you? You reacted in the moment instead of taking your time and thinking things through, resulting in a bad choice. There is a simple formula for this way of life:

Event + Emotional Reaction = Usually the worst choice

Is there a better formula to make choices instead of just reacting to whatever comes your way? What about this formula for making choices in your life:

Event + Considered Response = Usually a better choice

Some years before I started my own business and while I was still an employee on a limited and basically fixed income, I made a real estate investment that blew up, as in blew up in a bad way. Instead of doing my own homework and determining the real estate boom was running out of steam, I jumped on the real estate bandwagon too late and lost a lot of money. But it turned out that painful lesson was one of the best in my life. I learned not to follow the crowd, because sometimes the crowd is wrong. I learned not to react, but to stop and think things through for myself.

Now I want to show you the most common reason why people continue to make the same bad choices, even after they decide to make a change. Imagine you are holding in your hand a file folder labeled, “Your Future.” And now imagine every bad choice you have ever made written on a piece of paper . . .  that you keep filing in this folder! How can you expect to make better choices, if you keep misfiling past mistakes into the future file? If you allow your past to perpetually be your future, making the right choice is impossible. You will stay in the same rut.

Consider this:

It is our choices that determine the outcome of our life. Perhaps it’s time you tried walking a new road; the road less traveled.

I’m not a poet. I don’t read poetry, but I want to close with this little poem called “The Guy in the Glass,” by Dale Wimbrow:

When you get what you want in your struggle for self

and the world makes you king for a day,

then go to the mirror and look at yourself

and see what that guy has to say.

For it isn’t your mother, brother or friends

Whose judgment you must pass.

the person whose verdict counts most in your life

is the one staring back in the glass

You can go down the pathway of years

receiving pats on the back as you pass.

but your final reward will be heartaches and tears

if you cheated that guy in the glass.

Do not cheat the guy in the glass. Reread this paper and learn the techniques of making better choices. Or not. After all, it’s a choice not a command.