Let’s plan the ideal life.
Plan A: Perfect parents, a childhood without drama and trauma, graduate from the college of your choice with great grades, select a life mission by age twenty-one, land the perfect job in the career of your choice, married to your soulmate by age twenty-six, two beautiful, healthy, well behaved and intelligent children by thirty-five, financially independent by age forty-five, and retired to a life of leisure and travel by age fifty-five.
Sound good? Yes. Sound possible? Yes. Sound plausible? I doubt it.
No let’s take a look at plan B the alternative: Raised in a dysfunctional family, barely make it out of high school, drop out of college in your second year, unsure of what direction your life should take, two average kids that keep you from getting your share of sleep for several years, divorced from your first spouse by age thirty-five, in debt and stuck in a career that is going nowhere, and drop dead at forty-five due to a stress related illness.
Not a pretty picture.
Real life falls somewhere in the middle of these two scenarios. John Lennon had a great line in one of his songs, “Life is what happens to you as you plan your life.”
How many people do you know that have led the perfect life? I will bet very few, and the ones that want you to think they have most likely have a few skeletons in the closet.
How many people do you suppose begin their life with plan B in mind? None I would suspect. Everyone wants the ideal life.
What is the ideal life? I haven’t a clue. I would guess that for everyone who supposedly has one there is some aspect of their life they would secretly like to change.
Now I have to ask you a serious question. Did you think your life would turn out as it has? There are two basic ways life can turn out. Better than we thought it would and worse than we thought. Which did you get, better or worse?
Every life is about options, choices and consequences. One of the great essays by R W Emerson is, The law of Compensation. If you have never read it I suggest you find it and spend some time with it. In essence the essay says, what goes around, comes around, what you sew, you will reap.
You and I are reaping today the results of our earlier sewing. Now I can hear some of you thinking, I didn’t choose to be born into an alcoholic family, raised in a ghetto, or be abused mentally or physically. To discuss this further is a metaphysical concept which I will not delve into in this article. Let’s rather focus on the decisions you have made from the options you had from age, oh let’s say, ten.
There is one major premise that is the core of this article, so I may as well get it out in the open now. You can not always control what happens to you or who or what comes into your life, but you can always choose your reaction, response or attitude about it, him or her.
We were engineered for success and program for failure. The average child by age ten has been raised and conditioned in an environment that they couldn’t choose. They heard no more than yes, you can’t more than you can, you shouldn’t more than you should and you’ll never more than you will.
Add to this the thousands of hours of destruction and violence on TV and video games, a society that has seldom been an ideal role model for the coming generation and peer pressure to fit in or not fit at all. Growing up is a difficult struggle at best.
We need to learn coping skills, emotional maturity, who we are, what we want, why we want it, who we want to be with and what we need to be whole, happy and at peace with ourselves and the world.
The fortunate among us had a great start in these early years, but unfortunately, that is the exception. Most of us had to deal with some kind of “stuff” before we left home to follow our own path.
Let’s talk about four issues that impact the quality of life; options, choices, decisions and attitudes.
Everyone has options, regardless of the situation they may find themselves in. Some options are obviously better than others, but there is always something you can do. People are never stuck, they just choose to see themselves as stuck.
Your current options are related to your previous choices. Better choices in the past gives you more options in the future. Let me give you an example I overheard a father of a teenager sharing with a friend over lunch.
The father was trying to influence his son to the advantages of studying while he was in high school. He said, I asked my son if he could see how getting better grades in high school would give him more or better options for college after graduation? His son agreed. He asked him if he could see the connection to discipline and study in college, how that would give him more and better career options after college. He agreed. He asked him if he could see how a better career would give him more financial, travel and relationship choices. He again agreed. Then he asked the final and most important question. Do you see how the attitudes and skills that you develop now will impact the rest of your life? He agreed.
I don’t know the outcome of the situation with this mans son, I can only guess, but I see so often in life people say, I will get serious when I am finally in the relationship I want, job or career I want and living where I want. What these people fail to realize is that there is a connection between what you are doing now and how you are doing it to the next stage of your life.
Your future is created in the now moments in your life. Your future options are dependent on your present choices.
How and why you choose what you do from the various options in life is a function of your: maturity, courage, insight, experience, life history, value systems, plans, dreams, life outlook (positive or negative, willingness to follow through, confident or low confidence), goals, faith, confidence, trust, life orientation (future, present or past) thought patterns and comfort zones.
If for example, you are in the job market seeking a new position, and are offered a position that requires learning a new industry, relocating to a part of the country you have never been to, and taking a ten percent reduction in compensation, but with greater potential for future success and happiness, vs. a position with less potential, but requires none of the other changes, what would you do?
It depends on your interpretation of the above seventeen items.
Decision making is the ability to carefully evaluate your options, and act on what you believe is the best choice given your current circumstances and future plans. Procrastinating on a decision that eventually must be made drains energy, resolve and creates inner confusion and frustration.
There is a great story in Napoleons Hill’s book, Think and Grow Rich, about how Andrew Carnegie have Napoleon Hill sixty seconds to make a decision on whether he would take on the project that led to his writing this all time best seller. He made the decision in the time allotted. But the ability to make it required faith, confidence, trust, and the willingness to follow through.
It takes courage to make a decision, not knowing the outcome in advance. But, isn’t that what life is really all about? How can you know how a relationship will turn out. How can you know whether your organization will downsize or be sold leaving you on the outside looking in. How can you know how your children will turn out when you decide to start a family. How can you know whether you will like all of your neighbors when you move to a new location. How can you know whether you will like ice cream until you try it. You can’t, life is not like that.
Our job is to take the curriculum we are given and do the best we can with it. Unfortunately we don’t always get to take the course we think we will like, can handle or want.
I love the Nike ad, Just Do It.
Options, choices and decisions all come down to attitudes. Your attitudes about life, adversity, problems, success, failure, accomplishments, people, and yes your attitudes about the decision process itself.
There are only two attitudes that you can have that will impact the overall quality of your life. They are, I can do it, I will do it, or I can’t do it, I won’t do it. Examine your attitudes the next time you need to make a life decision, no matter how minor or major.
I don’t know how your life is turning out, but I do know that you and only you are the architect of your past, present and future. If you want a better life, whatever better means to you, the time to fix whatever is in your life that you want to change, is now; not tomorrow, not when you feel like it, not when you have more money, not when you live where you want to, or start your own business, or not when you are with a better life partner, the time is now, and now won’t wait for you while you spend time trying to decide.