Life is a journey and along the way, we will make many small choices and a few big ones. In the end those choices, those decisions become who we are. We are our choices. We choose how we treat others, the good we do as well as the wrongs.
That’s because every one of us has the ability to express our personal choices through free will. And, how much we value free will is reflected in the extent we use our freedom to choose.
The stakes are high, so, we need to choose wisely.
We can, of course, choose not to use free will and, let others decide for us. Their choices then create the circumstances we live in instead of our choices. It is still our choice, a passive choice, not to exercise our free will.
In Welcome to the Journey, we introduced the idea that creating True Wealth is simple but not easy. That’s because you will likely need to make active choices to change yourself, possibly those around you, and how you think about money.
Where’s the best place to start?
Start with Yourself
That too is not easy because we are who we are for a reason and there are demands made by others that pull us in different directions. However, ultimately it is your choice to change, if you do change, or not change.
In addition, you might ask, what if others depend on me? What if you are important to someone; perhaps a child, parent or spouse? If so, Dr. Jordan Peterson would argue the choice is to take care of yourself first “for them.”
Similar to when you fly, the flight attendants instruct you to put your oxygen mask on first, before helping others. Why? Because if your oxygen mask is not on, you will run out of oxygen, and without oxygen you can’t help others who depend on you to help them with their oxygen mask.
Dr. Jordan Peterson explains this in his excellent book “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos”:
“This means taking care of yourself, getting healthier (physically and mentally), expanding your knowledge, pursuing goals you want, articulating your principles.”
– Jordan B. Peterson
Whatever you choose, there will likely be some obstacle and you will have to decide how to deal with those obstacles. Your routines and habits that either help or get in the way are your choices.
We are our choices; choose to start with yourself “for them.”
Do Something Small
Start with a small step. Each day ask yourself; what little task can I do today to make this day, or someone’s life, just a little bit better? Then do it no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. Over time small tasks add up and compound into something very meaningful; who you are.
Admiral William H. McRaven speaks to this directly from the perspective of a Navy Seal in his best selling book “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World” The book followed his University of Texas commencement speech on the topic.
Is making your bed really that big of a deal? Navy Seals do it, and it becomes a habit, and habits become disciplined behavior if they’re good habits. Small but good habits put you in a better place where you start taking control of your own life.
Small and good choices become good habits. Ask yourself each morning; what good shall I do this day? You may start wondering how can I make this life even better. It becomes a virtuous cycle of good behavior that repeats itself through discipline for your betterment out of habit!
We are our choices; choose to do something small.
Leverage Your Gifts
Our ancestors sacrificed much for us: we have plentiful food through modern farming, transportation, education, medicine, a longer life span, and as much free information as we can possibly absorb.
These are really amazing gifts available for our benefit through the efforts of many before us. I think that’s what Isaac Newton meant when he said;
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”
– Isaac Newton
Newton made that observation four centuries ago. We have many more gifts today than Newton did four centuries ago.
These gifts were contributed by many generations who made life better than they found it for their children. It is our turn to further leverage these gifts and pay them forward.
We are our choices; leverage your gifts and pay it forward.
Many people are mentors; historical figures, legends, educators, scientists, business leaders, activists, and others.
As an investor, I chose Warren Buffett, Howard Marks, and Bruce Flatt as mentors. They are some of the most successful investors in the world, who freely share what they know with anyone who wants to listen.
As good observers of human nature, we can also find many mentors in our midst. People we know or know of, who do outstanding things, or things we don’t know, or things a little better than we do.
Mentors show us how to accomplish more by learning from their wisdom, experience, as well as their mistakes.
We are our choices; choose good mentors and coaches.
Live by a few Simple Principles
The vast majority of our decisions can be significantly simplified by living a principled life. We do not need to think through and analyze every option or choice with a few simple principles. Examples include:
- I value my freedom of choice and the right to exercise that freedom;
- I am a product of my decisions, not my conditions;
- I’ll treat others the way I want to be treated.
Stephen Covey was the author of the best-selling book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” He probably described principles best:
“Correct principles are like compasses: they are always pointing the way. And if we know how to read them, we won’t get lost, confused, or fooled by conflicting voices and values.”
– Stephen Covey
Or as my principled and pragmatic ex-Marine, Dad would suggest; “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel to solve this problem. It’s already solved for us.”
We are our choices; live by a few simple principles.
Gifts and Choices
Jeff Bezos is the founder of Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer. As of this writing, he is the wealthiest person on earth.
In his 2010 Princeton University commencement speech, he shared a valuable lesson learned as a child; the differences between gifts and choices.
On a road trip with his grandparents, trying to show off his arithmetic skills, he was insensitive to his grandmother’s situation, and she started to cry. His grandfather took him aside to explain; “Jeff, one day you’ll understand that it’s harder to be kind than clever.”
Bezos explained “…What I want to talk to you about today is the difference between gifts and choices. Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy — they’re given after all. Choices can be hard. You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful, and if you do, it’ll probably be to the detriment of your choices.
This is a group with many gifts. I’m sure one of your gifts is the gift of a smart and capable brain. I’m confident that’s the case because admission is competitive and if there weren’t some signs that you’re clever, the dean of admission wouldn’t have let you in.”
We are Our Choices
He continued; “…Jules Verne, Mark Twain, Galileo, Newton — all the curious from the ages would have wanted to be alive, most of all, right now. As a civilization, we will have so many gifts, just as you as individuals have so many individual gifts as you sit before me.
How will you use these gifts? And will you take pride in your gifts or pride in your choices?”
Asking them to fast forward the years; “I will hazard a prediction. When you are 80 years old, and in a quiet moment of reflection narrating for only yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be most compact and meaningful will be the series of choices you have made. In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story…”
We are our choices; “Build Yourself a Great Story”
Today is the first day of the rest of your life and the rest of your story. It starts with you. The early chapters are done they’re history. Start the next chapter with a belief in yourself, exercise your free will, and choose wisely.
“Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.”
And Make your bed!
Remarks by Jeff Bezos, as delivered to the Class of 2010