Sometimes when confronted with different options, there's more than one right choice. Quit agonizing over the idea that there's a single correct decision.
Baseball legend and master of the one liner Yogi Berra gets credit for the title of this article. His quips were usually funny and often grounded in truth. This one in particular has stuck with me for its truth. Let me explain…
Exams in law school often involve gray areas; there is often more than one correct answer. For that reason, professors are often less concerned with a student’s conclusion than with their logic. I had a professor once say “How you get there is more important than where you end up.”
Basically, he was saying that he wanted to see and understand the arguments being made. Were they sound, logical and based in precedent? Did they apply the facts of the question well? In other words, in the situation with multiple correct answers, the steps taken to arrive at any answer were more important than the conclusion itself. The exact same principle is true in life. Often, we get so hung up on making the “right” choice, that we lose sight of the journey itself.
There is a myth that suggests that we have only one destiny. Only one perfect match in love. Only one perfect career. Only one perfect place to live. We’d like to believe that if we find this elusive “one” that life will then be perfect. As a result of this mindset, many people are constantly looking ahead to the day that they have all those perfect matches and life somehow reaches an ideal state. With few exceptions, most people don’t reach that state of idealism because they’ve boiled it down to a handful of idealized “ones.”
The reality is, there are an infinite number of right decisions. There are many perfect careers and places to live. What matters is the path you take to get there and what you learn in the process. When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
I was once confronted with a choice between two jobs, one that would move my family to Kansas City, Missouri and the other back home to Portland, Oregon. Both were good companies with comparable salaries and benefits. Both were in desirable cities where I could comfortably raise my children. As I agonized over the decision, it dawned on me that both choices could be equally right. There wasn’t a “wrong” choice! My family could build a great life either way. The idea was liberating in a way as it allowed me to go with my gut and we ultimately made the decision to move back home to the Portland area.
With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you weigh the options and make that final choice:
Your long term goals likely require skillsets, resources and information that you currently don’t have. Does one option take you closer to your goals than the others?
Does one side have a much longer list of benefits than the other?
What results from making one decision over another? What are the short and long term consequences?
After going through this exercise and no single option stands out, it’s time to realize the truth of this article and understand that there simply isn’t a wrong answer. There is no “one” choice that will lead you to that perfect life. So, take a breath, close your eyes and jump in. Go with your gut. Remember Yogi Berra’s words and when you come to a fork in the road, take it.
In order to reach a big goal, we have to take concrete steps that take us directly towards it.
Milk comes from cows (usually). Honey comes from bees. Those are obvious statements that any four year old could impart to us with unflinching certainty. With that definiteness, I know that (even though I’ve never kept bees) I can be certain that if I want honey I’ll need their help in getting it. I won’t try to milk a bee and I won’t try to find that mythical cow hive to get my honey fix. For honey, I’ll make a bee line (forgive the pun) for the bee hive and harvest what I want. It’s simple. Yet, every day people make the mistake of trying to pull honey from a cow when pursuing a goal.
Let’s say your goal is to write a book. The straight line approach suggests that you write. Write a little bit every day until you reach that honey pot. The individual mistakenly heading towards the dairy in search of their pot of honey might spend all of their time researching the book. Sure, some research might be necessary but this person thinks they need to know everything about their book topic and gets so mired in research and study that they fail to write a single word. If they’re goal was to know everything about the topic then heading towards the dairy was the right choice. But, since they’re trying to write a book, they’re likely headed in the wrong direction.
The key is to take concrete action towards your goal. Initially, the milk and honey might be on the same path but when that road forks you’ve got to be sure you’re headed towards the honey. Some time ago, my wife and I began a fitness routine with the goal of dropping our body fat percentages and overall weight. We dove head first into the workout routines, pushing ourselves hard. We noticed some improvement, but not at all what we expected.
After some fruitless effort we realized that we’d gone off the rails in one important area: we’d failed to change our diets. Like doing a bit of research for a book, working out seemed very good and productive. But it wasn’t going to get us to our goal. Instead of completely orienting ourselves towards that goal we went only halfway. As a result, we failed to realize what we’d set out to do until we changed direction. We corrected our diets and saw much bigger results.
What are your goals and what do you need to do to reach them? What are concrete steps you can take to get there? Consider the straightest line to get from where you are now to where your goal is and do your best to stay on that route. Remember, if you want honey you’ve got to go where the bees are. There’s no such thing as a cow hive.
When an upcoming life change seems scary, there are two keys to making it amazing: be intentional and anticipate growth.
Recently, someone very close to me accepted a job offer to work for a new company in a new industry. The position will require him to move by himself to a new state. It’s a tremendous opportunity for him, and from the outside looking in I can see only positives. However from my own experiences on the inside, I know how daunting the prospect of so much change at once can seem.
Often the fear of uncertainty or change becomes so strong that it forces us to shrink from the challenge. Motivational speaker and author Brian Tracy has said that “everything you do is either triggered by an emotion of desire or fear.” I like to think of it this way: passion and fear can’t exist in the same place at the same time in the same proportions. One or the other will always be in control. The key is to find a way to make the more productive emotion dominate.
When the job offer was extended, I’m sure my loved one was motivated by desire. The desire to learn and grow in a new and exciting area probably elicited a passion and excitement in him. But from my own experience I know that as the time to move draws closer fear takes a more active role in the mind and can even drown out the original desire. Keeping that desire at the forefront is the real challenge. The things that motivated the desire are still there. The opportunity remains, along with all the benefits that come with it. So, in order to maximize the desire to follow through, I’ve come up with a couple of helpful things to help keep the passion going and make the most out of an upcoming life change or experience.
First of all, it’s important to go about the change in an intentional way. All experiences can be for our benefit if we’re willing to learn from them. There is an old proverb that says “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Often, the teacher comes in the form of an experience or life change. So, as you embark on a new chapter in life, in order to be intentional about it ask yourself these questions:
The key is to create the experience rather than simply expecting it to happen to you.
Second, you must anticipate the personal growth that stems from the experience. In other words, go into the experience planning for self-improvement. John Wooden once said “When opportunity presents itself, it’s too late to prepare.” Consider the upcoming experience as your opportunity to prepare for something even bigger and treat it as such. You’re being groomed for an opportunity that you haven’t yet seen nor thought of. To keep your enthusiasm going as you anticipate growth, you need to consider the application of what you’ll learn by asking yourself:
Another name for the fear that crops up after our initial passion is “resistance.” Resistance is a sinister force that pushes us backwards. In order to get where we need to be, we must press forward, through the resistance. Resistance serves as a compass pointing us in the direction we need to go to experience significant growth if we’re intentional about it. Fear doesn’t need to rule us. Make this experience your moment. This is your time to learn and grow. It’s an opportunity to stretch yourself and become even closer to the person you want to be. It won’t be easy. Nothing significant ever is. But it will be worth it.
Sometimes the best way to solve a nagging problem is to slow down, take a close look at it and try a different approach.
Not far from my home in Washington State is an incredible volcanic formation known as the Ape Caves. The Ape Caves are stunning lava tubes that hikers visit in droves every summer (sorry, despite the name there are no apes residing there). Because they’re underground, the tubes have a consistently cool temperature regardless of the air temperature outside. They’re also fantastically dark. Visitors won’t get far without a light source of some kind. And even with a flashlight or lantern, odds are high that they’ll stumble over the uneven surface. Some even take a fall.
I imagine those who are most prone to stumbling and falling are the folks without sufficient light, along with those who are moving the fastest, eager to reach the end of the tunnels. In either case an adjustment, either slowing down or breaking out that extra flashlight will usually correct the problem. It doesn’t eliminate the obstacles, it just makes them easier to navigate. Those who fail to adjust are the ones who will most likely suffer repeated stumbles and falls.
The old saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results has become cliché, yet the idea remains true. We’ll repeatedly make the same mistake when a simple adjustment could fix it.
I struggled for years trying to play certain tunes on the guitar. When I practiced, I always attempted to play the songs I was learning at the same speed as the musicians who wrote them. Only when I slowed down the tempo did I learn to pluck each note properly and create the right melody. Once I had the fingering right I could increase my speed until I reached the tempo of the original song. It was a small fix that improved my guitar playing in a big way.
What are areas that you’re struggling in? What small adjustments could be made to turn those struggles into victories? Sometimes it helps to slow down and shine a little light on the problem. It may take sincere reflection; an act that often takes the form of asking yourself the right questions and giving careful thought to the answers. Here’s a few questions that may help you turn your struggles into victories:
Mistakes are a part of life, and if we’re doing things right we’ll learn from them and return to our problems with better approaches. That’s what growth is. Fail, learn, improve, repeat. Slow down, shine a little light on things and change your approach. It’s either that or continue stumbling.
Respect the process of achieving a goal and you'll notice how everything you do takes you one step closer.
I’m a barbecue fanatic. I love the method, the art and especially the final product. A well smoked, melt in your mouth brisket is my idea of not just a perfect meal but a perfect end to the hours long process of bringing that meal into being. A beef brisket is a tough chunk of meat; producing a tender and juicy final product involves what barbecue enthusiasts call “low and slow” cooking.
A properly smoked brisket can take up to 14 hours to produce. The key is to let the heat and smoke do their work; the pit-master’s chief job is to constantly monitor the temperature and provide just enough wood to the fire to keep that temperature as stable as possible. It can be a tough job, but with a bit of hard work to go along with the ambitious goal of a perfect brisket, the result is both delicious and satisfying.
The low and slow formula is basically this:
Hard Work + Goals + Ambition = Satisfaction
The pitmaster’s goal to produce the perfect piece of meat is brought to fruition through ambition and hard work over many hours. If he cooks it too quickly, the meat will toughen up. Low and slow is the only way to produce the desired outcome.
The same is true for everything in life. To reach our goals we must respect the process and take things one day at a time. When you feel like each day brings you incrementally closer to your goal, you can feel excited about the day itself. It’s true that most jobs are uninspiring on their own. But if each day in that job takes you a bit closer to your goal, doesn’t that make it worth waking up and going to work in the morning? The minimum wage job will lead to something slightly better which will serve as the next stepping stone toward your goal. The goal is the target. Your ambition and your work ethic make up the fuel that takes you there.
It applies everywhere
Raising a family involves more hard work than anything I’ve ever done. For me, the goal fueled by ambition is to hold my family close to me and raise children that grow into happy and generous adults. That is a satisfying end for me. Each step along the way takes my family and me a bit closer to the goal. Each minute spent fishing with my sons. Each chore I teach them to accomplish without complaint and every talk or I love you I offer to my daughters takes us a bit closer. But the formula applies to much more; building a business enterprise, growing a career, crafting a piece of art or any other process oriented effort. You’re limited by the loftiness of your goal and the amount of work and ambition you put into achieving it.
Remember to take it one day at a time, low and slow. The perfect brisket isn’t crafted on a 500 degree skillet. It’s made in a 250 degree smoker, one minute at a time, hour after hour. As problems arise and the temperature rises and falls, make the necessary adjustments but take heart in the fact that you’re a little bit closer to an end that’s personally invigorating for you. Press forward. You got this.