“It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
— J. K. Rowling, British novelist and author of the Harry Potter fantasy series
“I haven’t been able to work,” said Bill. “Not with the pain and nerve damage.”
It had been a few years since the accident that ended Bill’s career on the construction site. An accident that nearly ended his life. A drunk driver — with no consideration for the devastating consequences of her choice — headed out on the highway after a Christmas party.
For Bill, the day of accident started out like most others: busy and demanding. Time was in short supply and the foreman was pushing the crew at the jobsite hard. By the end of the day, Bill was ready to relax and put his feet up. As he began driving the familiar 30-minute route home, he cranked the tunes on the radio and sang along with a favourite country artist.
As he approached a long curve in the road, something frightening caught his attention. It was a set of headlights in his lane, coming toward him at the tremendous rate of speed. Someone was passing a long line of cars on a double solid line. Bill cut the wheel hard to the right but it was too late. The last thing he recalled before losing consciousness was the sudden, gut-wrenching impact — the sound of metal and plastic crumpling and the smell of smoke.
Choices have consequences both good and bad. Sometimes choices are simple and the consequences minor. Other times, the choices seem simple but the consequences are dire. For Bill, the consequences of someone else’s choice will last a lifetime. For the driver of the oncoming vehicle, her consequences (along with all of her other concerns) ended upon impact.
Why do some people seem oblivious to the consequence of certain actions — especially when those consequences seem so obvious? It’s almost as though perceived benefits have been inflated while perceived consequences have been diminished or not considered at all. Yes, it’s easy to recognize cause and effect when looking at something as dramatic as a car accident but even the impact of seemingly small, everyday choices can be equally devastating over time.
Take a look at your life and the choices you’ve made up to this point. Can you connect the dots between choice and consequence? Choices play a major role in shaping our lives. A poor choice can derail our life and the lives of others. A wise choice can have an equally dramatic, though positive effect. Even if our track record isn’t great, with awareness and self-responsibility, we can begin making better choices today. We can change our life and the lives of others.
My father once told me that the world is filled with a few adults and a lot of really old kids. Growing up involves acting responsibly and making wise choices that lead to positive outcomes. It also means learning from mistakes — avoiding poor choices that produce negative results. How many people do you know, despite their age, who are still irresponsible children?
I used to be one of those people. Even today, I don’t always make the right choices but I try to draw a lesson from the poor ones. Before I began my self-esteem journey, I made a many poor choices. Feeling undeserving, I missed opportunities for career advancement. Feeling incompetent, I ran away from a challenging situations I would have overcome had I persisted. Feeling unworthy, I played the role of door mat and people-pleaser. Feeling unlovable, I avoided close relationships. When we consider our motivation, it’s amazing what we can discover. Our level of self-esteem can have a tremendous impact on decision making.
Poor choices can also result from an unwillingness to consider alternate points of view, resisting seeking advice and information from others, and refusing to release the ego’s need to be right. Strong feelings and intense emotions can also make us vulnerable to poor choices.
In the presence of strong emotions it is always wise to pause and then to proceed with caution.
The interesting thing is, as I began to work on my self-esteem and started to slowly connect said dots, I felt worse and more anguished than ever. Awareness brought with it tremendous condemnation. Over time, however, I came to understand that poor choices often result from a lack of self-knowledge and understanding. It’s hard to make a wise choice when we are unaware of better options. However, my lack of awareness did not remove my responsibility. I still had to accept responsibility for my choices and subsequent outcomes and so do you.
Awareness and self-acceptance can lead to better choices, particularly with regard to goals, values and beliefs. Acknowledging our values helps us to make choices that are consistent with the things that we deem important. Knowing what it is that we hope to accomplish can dramatically increase the likelihood of making wise choices leading to achievement of our dreams.
In order to make wise choices, we need to learn to accept full responsibility for poor choices and that’s a lot easier when we feel good about ourselves.
That starts with awareness and, though this step can be tremendously daunting, it is truly worth the effort.
“Every person has free choice,” wrote American author and philosopher Alfred A. Montapert. “Free to obey or disobey the Natural Laws. Your choice determines the consequences. Nobody ever did, or ever will, escape the consequences of his choices.”
For me, one of the most powerful steps toward making better choices was forgiving myself for past poor choices. The more willing I became to forgive myself, the more able I was to forgive others.
As for Bill, I’m not certain if he’s reached a point of forgiveness yet or if he ever will. But ultimately, he will face the consequence of that choice.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His recent book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.