There is a universal law that you can bank on which is you have the freedom of choice but not the consequences. This law was taught to me in June of 1976, the summer before entering my senior year in high school. I was bagging groceries at Joe’s Clover Farm in the small town of Trenton, N.C. The owner of the grocery store, Joe Lassiter, told me to come into his office that he wanted to talk to me. As I was walking back to his office, I was thinking what does he want to talk about? What have I done? Mr. Lassiter was not only my boss but a friend of the family. I had a feeling that Mr. Lassiter wasn’t calling me into his office for small talk. As a teenager I was beginning to make some unwise decisions. I wondered if my dad had shared his concern with my decision making with him. I was apprehensive as I slowly walked back to his office. As I took a seat he soon put me at ease with his low-keyed tone of voice. As he spoke I could tell that he truly cared for me and his words were coming from his heart. He gave me some advice that started to change the rest of my life. Mr. Lassiter said, “The choices you make over the next 5 years will set the course of your destiny for the rest of your life. If you make wise choices for the next 5 years your life will be a lot easier when you are in your forties and fifties.” He stated clearly, “Remember this universal truth, you have the freedom of choice, but you don’t have the freedom of the consequences.” He was saying that there are certain consequences that come with certain choices. You can control the choices you make but after you have made the choice, you have no control over the outcome or consequences.
Over the years I have made good and bad choices. I want to reflect back to my senior year in high school and share with you a choice that I was faced with that changed my life. At the beginning of my senior year in high school my best friend and I were contemplating quitting school, running away, and traveling across the country on an adventure. That sounds good, right? We had saved up $500 each from working in the summer at Joe’s Clover Farm. We thought that we were set. I am so glad for the invention of paper and pencil. These items saved me from making a choice in which the consequences would have been disastrous.
My friend and I took a piece of paper and made two columns. On the left side of the paper, we titled it advantages of quitting school. On the right side of the paper we wrote disadvantages of quitting school. We started writing under advantages: I said, “We have $1000 cash to survive on. We can travel and enjoy the good life. We can drive all over the country and view the beautiful mountains. We can tour the Niagara Falls and marvel at the powerful rushing waters flowing off the cliffs. We can go to Disney World and ride all the exciting roller coasters. We will finally have the freedom to make our own choices with no restrictions. This will be the good life we have always wanted.” My friend was becoming excited and exclaimed, “There will be no parents or teachers telling us what to do. Boring homework will soon be a forgotten waste of our time. We can sleep late and do our own thing.” On the right side of the paper we listed the disadvantages. I said, “You know traveling can be expensive according to my parents. I guess that is the reason we never went on that many vacations growing up.” My friend chimed in and said, “I bet that $1000 will soon be spent with all this traveling.” I asked my friend, "How will we eat when the money runs out? Will we go hungry? Where will we stay?” My friend said, “I can imagine us sleeping in the car will get old.” I said, “We will probably have to go to work to support ourselves. That’s not fun.” My friend shouted out, “Who is going to hire two high school dropouts?” How about this? I said, “Do you think my parents will continue to pay for my car insurance while we are on our adventure?” He replied, “Will our lives be harder or easier as a result of us being broke?” I shouted back, “Does the thought of being homeless appeal to you?” We looked at the few advantages on the left side of the paper for running away and then looked at the long list of disadvantages on the right side. Even as naïve and foolish as we were at that stage in our lives, the facts didn’t lie. I told my friend, “We aren’t going anywhere!” We concluded that the disadvantages outweighed the advantages. We decided to stay in school.
As a result of that one choice I reaped the following consequences. A few months later I met my future wife and married her after I graduated from high school. As a consequence of that choice we have three wonderful children which I have enjoyed seeing grow up. I got the chance to drive all three of them to school for their first day when they entered kindergarten. I was there to attend all their events while they were in school. I was there to coach them in t-ball, softball, and basketball. I never missed a birthday party that my children had. I was there when they graduated from high school. I was there when my youngest daughter and son graduated from college. I was there to walk my two daughters down the aisle when they got married. I was the best man at my son’s wedding. I was there with my oldest daughter when she gave birth to my grandchildren. The first time that I held them in my arms was an indescribable feeling that overwhelmed me with emotions of love and thankfulness. I am enjoying watching my grandchildren grow up.
Because of that choice I had the opportunity to own and operate a variety of businesses over the past 30 years. Because of that choice I had an opportunity to go back to college and finish my bachelor's degree. Wow! Our choices are important. Don’t be fooled by the temporary allusion of what appears to be “the good life.” The good life is analyzing choices before you make a decision that could possibly impact the rest of your life. Experiencing the good life is when years down the road you can look back and say, “I am so glad I made the right choice.” Our wise choices will lead us in the long term to a good life. Mr. Lassiter was right.
Remember, life is a series of choices. These choices have consequences that you have no control over. You only have control over the choice. Get a piece of paper and write out the choices you are thinking about. Think about the potential consequences and choose wisely. Your control is only in the choice. This turned out to be true not only in my life but every living breathing soul on this earth. If you want to become successful start making better choices. Don’t let your past failures or earlier poor decision-making hold you hostage to your future success. Let go and move on. Today is a new day. Begin again. Never quit, keep trying and overcome. Strive to make better choices.