Adults frequently inform students there are no multiple-choice exams in real life. They are wrong.
Life is in fact a series of multiple choices. It just requires creativity to ask the right questions and understand the available choices, analytical thinking to reason through potential outcomes, and intuition to select the best answer (because in some cases, intuition outperforms logic). You’ll also need pragmatism to realize sometimes, life’s momentum advances in shades of gray, without a single best answer, just different vectors toward the next available questions.
Truth – the direction of your life hinges on the summation of seemingly small, multiple-choice questions and answers.
The key is not just in selecting “good” answers, but in asking the right questions.
In your mid-30’s, you may reflect on certain monumental decisions (what university, which spouse, where you moved, which job you accepted, a promotion or career change, etc… call them “pivot points”) and retrospectively describe your life as straight lines connected by these few pivotal dots. If the choice of pivot points provides the proverbial forks in the road, the lines connecting them are eras in which we frame our stories. Between points, we simultaneously stride forward and gear up for the next pivot. It’s a season of work, of taking stock, and of taking aim for the next potential pivot.
Reality – your future pivot points are birthed from the cumulative effects of prior, small, multiple-choice decisions guiding you toward pivotal destinations.
Compounding Interest of Decisions
Not only is life threaded by a succession of multiple choices, they compound. How you ask and answer the present questions determines the questions and available answers presented to you in the future.1 Consistently making good small decisions inevitably creates eligibility for more interesting and more opportunistic pivot points later. Conversely, consistently choosing poorly in the small details of your life will deviate your path from better future options.
Ultimately, I think you’ll find that success in life (however you define it), to a large extent, is realized by creating good future options from which to choose. Better choices today. Better options tomorrow. And this is why the small decisions in life really do matter. They add up, like dropping a single grain of sand into a bucket. Over time, they carry weight.2
The goal then is to continually make consistently good choices, every minute, every hour, every day such that you increase your eligibility for those large, rewarding pivotal moments in life that propel you to greater trajectories.3
Although we are often unable to foresee pivot points in our distant future, we normally understand the correct small decision we should make each minute. What we occasionally lack is the discipline to consistently choose correctly in the small decisions. However, it is this consistent life-discipline that propels us toward favorable future pivot points.
It’s the small, incremental decisions, minute-by-minute that creates our habits that ultimately shapes our character. And our character, informed by our habits is, almost by definition, the person we become.
While you won’t likely know in advance what large pivotal decisions will come your way, you can nevertheless improve upon them without even knowing what they are by simply making smart small decisions now and by exposing yourself to new ideas and new life experiences.
This habit of consistent focus on making good small decisions combined with greater exposure to new life experiences will bend your life-trajectory toward the most favorable pivot points in the future… and your peers will call you “lucky”.
Because you will excel most when you are passionate about what you are doing, be sure to stimulate your life with new ideas and experiences such that you find your life-passions early. You might have no idea of the innate genetic reaction programs you have within you unless you encounter a certain stimulating situation.4
Therefore, be proactive to expose yourself to a variety of new situations different from your norm. Travel to new places. Study new subjects. Learn other languages. Experience different cultures. Turn off the TV/computer/phone/tablet. Go. Read. Learn. Do… such that you may conjure up all your pre-wired greatness while you are still young.
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- And, by logic, the decisions you have made in the past profoundly affect the available options you have today.
- The totality of our decisions also sums to our character. Character may be tested in major events, but it is built during the mundane details of everyday life. Habitually build upstanding ethics into your character in all the little decisions, especially when no one is watching or when it does not seem to matter or when it costs you – especially when it costs you. By exercising and training your ethical muscles in the small decisions, you will more naturally gravitate to ethical decisions on game day when the stakes are larger, and decisions are made quickly.
- And it’s not only you. It’s also important how others around you answer their respective multiple-choice questions. Your fate is inextricably intertwined with your family, friends, peers, associates, acquaintances, co-workers, leaders, employers, and in some cases complete strangers and the decisions they make. It is therefore extremely important to choose your friends, your spouse, and your associates wisely, because their choices profoundly impact your life as well.
- Vladimir A. Kozarenko
Good read, which is nothing different. But, I love the arricle for another reason…it gives the answer to the statement (common in our family)…”life is easy for Andy”…because, arguably, “easy” is accumulative.
That’s an interesting twist on this thought. And true, my life has been exceptionally easy. Clearly raised well…
Beautifully stated. It’s amazing how fun life is when you have “options”, and you often have more AND better options because of those past good decisions.
Thanks for your comment. Now list every bad decision you had ever regretted in your reply below. That is the right thing to do.
This! I Really love this one. Different than the others some how. Just wisdom of years, well articulated. It rings true to me because of two particular things. One I say often to my boys and other young men and women “when In doubt, choose the thing that leaves the most doors open”. And the other is often being called “lucky”. I appreciate your assessment that lucky is often the result of choices.
Thank you Christy.
Fantastic summation of the meaning of decision making, Andy. You’ve talked of writing a book – or at least a larger collection of thoughts on a specific subject. I would highly recommend using this article and whatever other ideas you’ve written pertinent to this topic as the basis of a book that weaves business process decisions and life / character decisions as a basis for success. The difficulty (as I’m sure you’re aware of) is that while much of what you write here is Truth (with a capital T) it is impossible to prove beyond anecdotal observation. The solution might be to present specific segments of the complete idea as vignettes highlighted from real life examples of people who are successful in their life.
Eric – Thanks for your supporting comments and encouragement. I’ll noodle on this a bit…