Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” I think we all know what Yogi meant…:)
We are all familiar with times in our lives where we stood at that ‘fork in the road’ and needed to make a decision one way or the other. The decisions span the spectrum from quick and easy to long and incredibly difficult. The decisions we make and the actions we take to move down one path or another are very relevant opportunities to build and strengthen our character.
Success in various areas of our lives brings about a multitude of ‘fork in the road’ decisions. If we have success in our careers, there are number of ‘climbing the ladder’ type decisions that need to be made. If we reach a level of financial success, there are a number of decisions around managing wealth that need to be made. If we have success in building strong relationships, there are a number of decisions that need to be made to maintain the commitments of lasting, healthy relationships.
In today’s blog, I would like to address the origin of many of our ‘fork in the road’ decisions as it can bring some insight to our efforts of building and strengthening our character. History demonstrates that for most of us, we only learn and grow through pain, discomfort, and challenge compared to the times we are riding high on the wave of success. Books are filled with examples of companies that have been blinded by success which eventually resulted in their downfall and examples of great “turnarounds” from the challenges of bankruptcy and potential insolvency. In close relationships, we really only wake-up and prepare to learn and grow when our world is about to fall apart and our spouse’s bags are packed, compared to the relative calm of a quiet night at home when everyone is well fed, well rested, and the bills are paid.
Discontent and frustration over our current situation is an opportunity waiting to happen. Discontent is the first step in any value creating endeavor. The great medical discoveries were born out of frustration and near hopelessness in witnessing suffering and death from disease. The great challenges of war brought about some of our greatest inventions. The tremendous frustrations of a growing nation brought about incredible advances in transportation and communication in the most recent 100+ years of our nation’s history.
On a more personal note, when discontent and frustration hits us personally, our ‘inner voice’ that drives our thoughts, decisions, and actions spotlights our character. When we are at the ‘fork in the road’ of a difficult personal situation, which direction do we turn?
When faced with the normal and unavoidable frustrations between a parent and a growing teenager, which direction do we take?
When faced with the inevitable frustrations between couples, which direction do we take?
When faced with a frustrating manager at work, which direction do we take?
When a teacher in school seems unreasonable and illogical, which direction do we take?
When a missed promotion seems so unfair and politically driven, which direction do we take?
In those difficult times, when discontent accompanies us at the fork in the road, if our thoughts, decisions, and actions are based on principles like courage, honesty, responsibility, and understanding, we build and strengthen our character as we head down the most effective path. If we let our thoughts, decisions, and actions be guided by anger, apathy, and the death-nail of relationships, contempt, we weaken our character and head down the least effective path.
In the same way that discontent and frustration is the first step in incredible innovation in our world, personal discontent and frustration with the state of a relationship can be the fork in the road where there is a path of opportunity to build and strengthen the relationship and a path to destroying it. We are responsible for the path we take.
Since there will probably be only a few of us leading the next great wave of global innovation to alleviate the suffering of the masses, the rest of us would be wise to focus most of our effort on choices to build and strengthen our relationships. When those relationship frustrations occur and we are reminded that we are at that fork in the road, choosing to move down the path of opportunity vs contempt is a choice that will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to improve our relationships and expand our impact.