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Live Life Fully: Little choices can make or break dreams

By Linda Arnold

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "Just this once. It won't really matter. I can start tomorrow."

Does this sound familiar? If so, you may have the same voices running around in your head as I do. Our minds play tricks on us. We think those everyday little choices don't count for much.

The truth is they have everything to do with getting us where we want to go in life. Sure, we focus on the big events -- graduation, marriage, kids and jobs. Those are the things that make up photo albums. So it doesn't really matter if we bend the rules on those little decisions along the way, right?

Wrong. It's exactly those little everyday decisions that shape our futures. Every choice we make leads us in one of two directions: focused on our futures or stuck in the past.

Choices made from fear keep us in the past. Our need for safety, security and predictability prevents us from stepping outside the reality we know. With every decision we're either moving forward or moving backward, explains author Debbie Ford. There's no middle ground.

It's easy to see how the big choices shape our lives, and it's easy to deceive ourselves into believing the small choices don't really matter. But a hundred small choices in the wrong direction can add up to a lifetime, where our dreams are always one step in front of us. And one small choice each day -- for a little over three months -- can add up to a hundred wrong choices.

We don't fail overnight. Failure is the result of an accumulation of poor choices, explains Jim Rohn, author of "Five Major Pieces to the Life Puzzle." Simply put, failure is nothing more than a few errors in judgment repeated every day. Why, then, do we continue repeating behaviors that no longer serve us? Because, Rohn says, the joy of the moment wins out over the consequences of the future.

And our ability to rationalize our behaviors just might be our biggest curse, Ford says, because it makes us masters at justifying our actions. She recommends a question to get clarity: "Will this choice propel me toward an inspiring future, or will it keep me stuck in the past?" This question gives us a fixed compass. The moment we ask it, our eyes open.

Consider the story of Bill, as illustrated by Ford in her book "The Right Questions." Bill had done very well in his career as a senior corporate executive. By age 50, he had accomplished many of his professional goals and had acquired the status and money that go with success.

But each morning, as he pulled himself out of bed, he was aware there was something missing. Bill had no passion. Truth be told, it had been years since Bill had felt any enthusiasm about his job. He stayed with it, though, because it was what he knew -- and he felt safe. It may not have been what he wanted, but Bill decided it was better than the unknown. Remember that comfort zone?

Bill went to work with the nagging awareness he was doing nothing in this life that helped his fellow human beings. He ached inside to make a bigger contribution. Bill had long dreamed of making a difference in the world. Deep down inside, though, he feared that if he followed his dream and failed he would be devastated. Still, the conflict between his desire and his fears ate at him more with each passing day.

Bill began to look at his daily choices and ask himself, "Will this action propel me toward an inspiring future, or will it keep me stuck in the past?" At that point, he could no longer postpone the moment of decision. He did some research and found a nonprofit organization whose sole mission was to transform people's lives.

Bill was so inspired he decided to volunteer his time to serve its mission. He looked for every opportunity to contribute his talents -- and didn't hold back any of his passion or energy. He even wrote a proposal showing how his contributions could support the organization's vision.

In just a short time, Bill began to feel a shift in his overall mood and energy. Although he was working more hours -- at his regular day job and with this organization at night -- he actually had more energy, and he felt more alive than he had in years.

Six months later, Bill was offered the job of his dreams. Finally, his desire to lead a more fulfilling life had won out. By having the courage to give up the familiarity of the past, Bill created a life for himself that he never dreamed possible.

Bill now begins each day with a sense of purpose and is energized and excited about his life.

How many of you are now saying to yourselves, "I'll have what he's having!"

There's an example in the West Virginia community that demonstrates this principle as well.

Larry Robertson, executive director of HospiceCare, came to his current position after a successful career in the corporate world. He was a well-respected chief financial officer and made many contributions to his former organization.

I'll never forget the gist of a comment he made to me one time, though, when I asked about his career change. His response definitely underscores the fulfillment he's getting every day by making a difference in people's lives: "During all the years I was in the corporate world, nobody ever gave me a hug for what I was doing."

That statement -- together with the expression on his face -- spoke volumes.

Making choices that propel us to a fulfilling future, even if it means giving up the comfort zones of our everyday lives at times, is well worth it. The good news is we can make course corrections at any time.

It doesn't have to be a wholesale change. In today's uncertain economy, it may seem daunting to make a 360-degree change. Bill's story can provide inspiration -- and proof -- that small steps taken repeatedly can add up to big changes.

It's our call to make, and we get lots of chances -- and choices -- every day!

Linda Arnold, M.A., MBA, is a certified wellness instructor, counselor and chairwoman/CEO of The Arnold Agency, a marketing communications firm with offices in West Virginia, Montana and Washington, D.C. Reader comments are welcome and may be directed to Linda Arnold, The Arnold Agency, 117 Summers St., Charleston, WV 2530l, or emailed to livelifefully@arnoldagency.com.


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