The Other Choice – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, April 26, 2018

If we want to make any progress in life, we need to make decisions and take action.

Decision making around the important things in life is tough work.  It requires thinking and it requires making judgments with limited information.  At times, many of us would just prefer a checklist that requires little to no thinking and just a robotic like obedience to achieve a certain goal in life.  The reality is that the important decisions around family, education, career, and areas we choose to serve, are all complicated.  The decisions are rarely between right and wrong, they usually land somewhere between “pretty good” and “maybe a little better.”

Even though making decisions in the complex, important areas of life is not easy, one of the potential barriers to our success in the decisions we have made is the time we spend pondering what could have been with “the other choice” not taken.  The “what could have been” debate if we had taken the other path like in the Robert Frost poem, The Road Not Taken, can hinder our progress.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, how we deal with “the other choice” will be critical to our emotional health and the eventual achievement of our hopes and dreams.  

Psychologists say much of the mental strain they see today is brought on by our tendency to struggle with the “what could have been” debate in our lives.  As these were big decisions in our lives, there is most likely a fair amount of emotion and perhaps pain associated with the choices we have made in the past.

I will state the obvious – There is no rewind button or do-over rule in life.  Our capacity spent trying to hope for a rewind or a do-over is an unfortunate waste of our limited resources.  A more effective option is to productively face the “other choice” concern that we all encounter at some point in our journey.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Reality: We will never know the full outcome of “the other choice.” We have a tendency to overemphasize the potential positives, but disaster also strikes on The Road Not Taken. This is one of the great mysteries in life, we only know for sure what we have in front of us today.
  • Understanding: Our most productive use of “the other choice” should be on understanding our thought process around the decisions we made at the time – What drove our decision? We will become more self-aware of our weak points and our strong points that will help us in many aspects of our life.
  • Growth: We can only press the forward button in life.  There is no pause and there is no rewind.  Our most effective efforts on dealing with past decisions is to grow from them so we can apply those gains to be more effective in our present set of choices and perhaps share our learnings with those closest to us.

As we reduce the emotional burden associated with the “what could have been” debate and focus on growing based on learnings from our past decisions, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity for us to reach our full potential.

A Necessary Decision – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, April 19, 2018

Today, we have an abundance of choices to pursue a basic education, on-the-job skills training, and traditional life skills like marriage, parenting, and household finance that are taught in various parts of our communities. In addition, via the internet, we have a global education system, many times free of charge, at our fingertips for any subject of interest.

The unlimited opportunity to gain direct access to training for any school subject, work skill, or critical life skill highlights two important realities:

  1. From a practical standpoint, we can teach people the best techniques to be functional at coding in C++, setting a family budget, playing guitar, driving a delivery truck, cooking a good steak, or even improving communication with our spouse J
  2. The vast majority of people can learn to be really great at something, if we make the choice. When we choose to make the effort, work through the disappointments, short-term failures, and the inevitable grind in the journey, we will develop the functional skill we seek.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, we need to be reminded of a necessary decision that is not routinely taught in the classroom, the workplace, and on the home front: Commitment.  Making the decision to commit is a prerequisite for developing any new skill in life. 

Psychologists would have a few fancy terms to describe the reality that most of us don’t commit to something until we have discovered that we can be good at it.  If the technique or skill being taught seems interesting and we show some initial, marginal success at doing it, then maybe we will commit.

However, for most things in life, there is always the “honeymoon” period.  Where the initial excitement of something new and different energizes us for some time and then the subject gets difficult.  We spend one too many all-nighters studying for exams and still do not pass.  We work hard and give it our best in the workplace and the promotion seems to never come our way.  In the home, the strain of bills, schedules, and bad habits marches us into that valley of loneliness even while we still share the same bed with our spouse.

During the difficult times, when the energy surrounding new and different fades away, the necessary decision of commitment is exposed.  It is the decision to commit that carries us through the journey to learn a new language, to develop a new skill at work, and to build empathy and understanding with those closest to us.

We could all benefit from an honest, self-assessment every once in a while, on the necessary decision of commitment. Unlike some classes in school, this assessment is not graded on a curve by comparing our commitment to that seen in others.  We stand on our own with this grade.

When we set the bar high on our own level of commitment, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity for us to learn new skills and reach our potential in the key areas of life.

Fork in the Road – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, April 12, 2018

Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” 

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. 

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, the decisions we make and the actions we take to move down one path or another are helpful opportunities for character development.

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 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.  

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 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 are opportunities 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 hit 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 knell of relationships, contempt, we weaken our character and head down the least effective path.

In the same way that discontent and frustration are the first steps towards 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.

When frustrations in relationships occur and we remind ourselves 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.