Maybe you’re wondering if you should ditch your full-time job to open your business. Or, you’re contemplating ending a four-year relationship. Ahhh, choices. Terrifying, liberating and life-defining…all at the same time. Here are a few reminders about making your life decisions.

We are here to create. If you don’t know your life’s purpose, allow me to be so bold as to provide for you: We are on this planet to make something beautiful. I don’t care what you do for a paycheck… you are a creator. What you create is up to you.  Your contribution might be tangible, such as making art, music or literature. Or, your contribution might be an intangible service, like fostering a student’s knowledge or helping a business balance the books. No matter what you do, you leave an indelible impression on this planet by your actions, deed and mannerisms. Let the impression be something awesome.

If it doesn’t make you happy…don’t do it. Yes, we do things all the time that do not make us happy (paying taxes, anyone?). I’m talking about the big stuff. Think of every item on your bucket list and ask yourself why you wish to do it. A few “why’s” later, you’ll get to the same answer every time, for every item—you think it will make you happy. Use happiness as a litmus test for all of your life’s decisions. If doing something does not bring you long-term joy, leave it to someone for whom it does.

Raw talent is useless without passion. Do not resign to a life path for the sole reason that you’re naturally good at it. Let me give you an example from my life. For some reason, I was naturally gifted at playing the bassoon (useful skill, right?). I liked being in symphonies. It was fun, but not my passion. This meant I had two choices: To stay competitive, I could spend time honing my skill by practicing which I didn’t like doing. Or, I could watch those who DID have passion and a stronger work ethic gradually make better music than I ever could. Suffice it to say, I don’t play the bassoon anymore. Talent without passion makes for a fun hobby at best.

Raw talent is useless without courage. Even if you’re talented AND passionate about something, it doesn’t matter if you’re not willing to overcome your fears to get what you want. Bear with me while I tell another story. This one is my mother’s. When she was in law school, she was also raising me and my two sisters, ages 4, 6, and 8 at the time. Given her full load, just passing the classes and getting her JD was all she wanted to achieve. This story is only partly about my mother, though. While at school, my mom befriended a bright, insanely talented classmate who I’ll call Beth. The stress of law school wears on many students, as it did for both of them. After the first semester, my mother got rather mediocre grades but plowed through all three years. Beth got the highest GPA in the class…but didn’t return for a second semester. Without bravery, talent is irrelevant. It is not the people who have raw talent who accomplish the greatest feats. It’s usually the people with courage and passion. Which brings me to the next point…

Fear is a friend who’s misunderstood.  I owe this line to John Mayer’s song, “Heart of Life.” If you are afraid to do something, remember that it’s probably a GOOD thing. Think of every great, monumental event in your life: Becoming a parent. Going abroad. Starting your own business. Taking the exam that certified you as a doctor/EMT/accountant/teacher. Rafting the Grand Canyon.  Wasn’t it all delightfully terrifying? Accomplishments are sweet precisely because of fear’s looming presence.

Obstacles are not always meant to be overcome. Sounds blasphemous, doesn’t it? I mean, aren’t we supposed to persevere, work harder, fasterharderfasteruntilwecollapse? I answer…sometimes. Let’s look at the problem of not getting enough restaurant patrons to stay afloat. The problem seems to arise no matter what you do—the food’s tasty, the ambiance is inviting, the staff is top-notch. In cases such as these, the problem is for one of two reasons; one is that you fear success. If this is the case, by all means, keep at it and overcome the fear. But there’s a second reason. You might be doing poorly because you don’t really want to succeed. That’s right: you don’t really want to succeed. If you succeed, it means you’ll have to keep doing what you’ve been doing over and over and over. And why might this be a bad thing? Well, it’s a terrible thing…if it’s not doing what you really love! We subconsciously avoid anything that we believe will bring us pain. Such perceived pain can easily override the illusory pleasure gained from monetary wealth. Always ask yourself, “Do I really want to perform what it takes to succeed, day in and day out?” If the answer is no, not only will you not succeed but you’ll make yourself miserable in the process. Focus on the means as well as the ends. In this regard, obstacles can be a blessing in disguise. These brick walls have giant arrows painted on them and they’re instructing you to go another way. Not all obstacles are meant to be overcome. Some obstacles serve as navigation posts instead.

Take the leap…even without the net. While it’s nice having a well-laid plan, let’s face it: what actually happens as a result of our biggest choices is seldom what we anticipate. The bigger the choice, the less predictable it is, too. Did raising a kid go as you thought it would? Is marriage what you initially envisioned? What about the career you chose based on your college major? And those are your best laid plans! If you’re excited about something but unsure of its effects, go for it anyway. Life is unpredictable, planned or unplanned.

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