The beauty of aging is that you gain the hindsight perspective from lessons learned through time. I think of it as ‘collecting’ experiences one moment at a time, for years and years. And as we gain knowledge and experience happiness or sadness, we get to bank the lessons to help us better understand the world around us and make better future decisions for ourselves. And, just as I cannot expect a 16 year old to fully understand a mid-life crisis, I cannot expect, at the age of 46, to fully understand the grace and concerns of being 80. And looking back across my life thus far, I begin to understand the magnitude of each CHOICE I made and how it played a roll in whom I have become today.
When speaking with young people, I always stress the need to preserve the ability to make choices in the future. What I mean by this is, the decisions we make today DO impact the choices we will have tomorrow. This seems intuitive, but I have been young, and I can remember the feeling that life was long and slow. I anxiously wanted to be 21 so I could drink alcohol; I wanted to graduate high school so I could get to college; I wanted to be older so I could experience being an adult. Admittedly, my choices were more for the immediate and not always well thought out. What I didn't realize was that every choice I was making during those years (and every choice I make today) does change my options for tomorrow. In retrospect, a lot of where I am today is due to good choices made in years past. I’m not sure if it was a function of my upbringing, my friends, or my teachers, but somewhere along the way I tacitly understood the idea of keeping my options open for the future.
Think of it this way. When you are born, you have unlimited potential to be or do ANYTHING you want to do. Do you want to be wealthy? You can be. Do you want to be president of the United States? You can be. Do you want to be a professional athlete? You can be. There is nothing you can't accomplish. If you are willing to pay the price, you can get there. Nothing comes easy and your attitude, determination, and CHOICES will determine if and how you successfully accomplish your goals. Most important is remembering that you begin to narrow your scope of life possibilities as soon as you start making choices. If you chose to go out and party too much during high school, you can't also expect to get good grades, and in turn, you can’t expect to get into any college you choose. I’m not suggesting you don't party during high school. I’m only highlighting that those choices will impact what you can do in the future (college). I think back to some of the choices I made along the way, and I remember how hard they were for me to make at the time. Postponing the joy of meeting up with friends in order to study. Being ridiculed or harassed by friends for not wanting to try drugs. In some cases I was just lucky. I chose the right path even though I wasn’t consciously thinking about my options. I “zigged” when I could have “zagged”, and that choice ended up making all the difference.
The importance of our choices was made extremely clear early in my corporate career. The bio-tech company that I worked for would not hire anyone who had ever been convicted of a DUI. So think about this scenario for a moment. You are in college and drinking at a bar with some friends. As the night comes to a close, you are feeling pretty sober so you CHOOSE to drive back to your apartment. Suddenly behind you there are flashing blue and red lights. You just got caught drinking and driving. In that single moment, and because of that seemingly simple choice, you just lost the opportunity to work for some companies for the rest of your life. Five, ten, fifteen years later, your options for employment are now more limited. Unfortunate, but true. The same goes for many of the otherchoices in your life. You fail high school, you can’t go to college. You get arrested for a felony, you can't vote, can’t own a gun, and you won’t get hired by many companies. The point being is that the CHOICES we make today can significantly impact our options tomorrow.
Now, you could be saying that there are still plenty of choices for tomorrow despite the decisions we make today. And that's true. There are always choices no matter what your station in life. For example, commit a crime and get sentenced to prison and you still have choices. You have fewer choices then a free person, but you might still be allowed to chose some things… like do you want to work in the laundry room or clean bathrooms? Limited choices but still something to pick from…
So, here is my advice. The younger you are, the more you should keep your options open. Avoid narrowing your potential by the immediate choices you make. And for those of us that are moving along in life, continue to keep a mindset that each of our decisions ripples into our future. Naturally, some choices will fade away because of the passing time and our age. For example, as much as I hate to admit it (and a part of me still thinks it’s possible), I probably can’t walk on and play college football. And further more, my opportunity to play in the NFL is probably past… probably. But, I can still make good choices at my age and even learn a new skill or talent that might make more options available to me in the future. I still avoid things that will limit my options. I actively stay physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy so I can enjoy life down the road. Keep learning new things and stay open to new experiences so that you can grow and create new choices for yourself. It’s never too late to open a new door; it’s just a matter of making the choice to do so.