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“We are our choices.” J.P. Sartre

There is a lot of life that is outside of our control. We can’t dictate how other people act.  We can’t control the economy or our job opportunities.  We can’t decide who our parents will be or our genetics.  But there is one very important aspect of life that is under our control – our choices.

In fact, I would argue that our choices dictate our quality of life more than any other factor. For instance, so many kids respond differently to their parents’ divorce.  Divorce is an unfortunate and all too common event in our society.  And for the children involved, it is profoundly disappointing.  Some kids turn to drugs, alcohol and bad behavior as a result.  However, when my parents divorced, I had the same reaction as some of my closest friends from divorced homes.  We hit the books and studied hard.  We walked the straight and narrow, lest we jeopardize our ability to go to college (our escape from the chaos created by our parents).  And ultimately, we succeeded – in spite of our circumstances.

I know two women who lost their mothers at an early age. One decided to be bitter and difficult due to the experience.  The other decided to be loving and warm.  She is extremely maternal, in spite of not having had a role model for motherhood.  They have had the same circumstances, but they have made different choices.

I’m sure you know folks who were given everything, and they chose to squander all their opportunities. And I’m sure you know individuals who came from limited means and yet did great things with their lives.  Circumstances don’t dictate our success.  Instead, our success or failure is dictated by our choices.  Do we choose drive and ambition, or do we choose complacency?

If there was one thing that I would tell every young person, it is this: We are the sum of our choices. So, at every opportunity, make good ones.  You would be surprised how far you will get in life simply by choosing hard work and kind behavior.

In fact, the biggest tragedy is when people don’t have choices. In this respect, I think in particular of children from poorer countries who don’t have access to education.  I also think of the young girls who are forced into marriage at a young age.  I also think of the children and young women who are sold into slavery.  What are their choices?  They have none, and that is a tragedy.

For most of us in the Western world, however, we do have choices. So please don’t take your choices for granted.  We each have the choice to work hard, be kind and give generously.  Conversely, we can choose to be lazy, unkind and stingy.  And ultimately, we become our choices.

This week, think about the choices you’ve made thus far in your life. Like everyone, you probably have made some good ones and some bad ones.  Consider how those choices have taken you on a certain trajectory in life.  Then think about where you want to be in the next 10 days, 10 months or 10 years.  If you make the right choices today, you will get to where you want to be in the future.  So be sure that your choices are good ones.

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