Five Essentials for Making Great Decisions

If life were a store, would you be pleased with your purchases?

I like to shop. Well…sort of. I like to shop when I can afford to buy things—I’m not much of a “window shopper.” I guess that’s because it can be depressing to think about what I want but can’t afford to buy.

What if I viewed shopping differently? What if I looked at life as one giant store and every choice I make is a “purchase” with a price tag attached? I can buy whatever I want, but then I have to live with it!

I’m going to close my eyes and Imagine for a moment that it’s true.

I’m inside the biggest store I can visualize (much bigger than Wal-Mart!). It stretches on for miles, with goods and items arranged appealingly in colorful packaging and artistic displays—the choices are endless.

My senses are bombarded by the variety. Everywhere I look there are sights to delight my eye, smells that evoke powerful cravings, sounds that soothe, stir or leave me restless and edgy.

It’s hard to know where to go first, what to look at. Touching is invited in this store so I pick things up, feeling the weight, the texture, the consistency. Some items I even get to “try on for size” before I purchase—cool! Yet every time I interact with something (or someone) my brain is registering the experience, pleasant or not.

Everything imaginable— and then some— is available for purchase. I wander down the “Living in the Moment” aisle for a bit. There’s a WHOLE LOT going on here that’s hard to ignore. I can see others hanging out here too; some I know. At first I hear the laughter and see the looks of ecstasy on the faces of other shoppers. “This is the place to be” I think. But as I continue on, I can’t help but notice some curled up on the floor crying, or the vacant, desperate expressions on others’ faces. I feel a sense of uneasiness and decide to move on to the “Personal Development” aisle, but not before casting a look behind me.

Aaah, yes. This aisle seems to be more of what I need. True, it’s not quite as flashy as “Living in the Moment,” but I can feel my senses calming a bit—less overwhelm here. I pick up some items: a life coaching package that promises to give me direction and tools to help me navigate this LIFE store better. I look at the price tag then quickly put it back. “I can’t afford that,” I tell myself and quickly move on. I do the same with a few more items. A workshop on handling my emotions looks interesting, but it would take an entire day to complete. I finally select a self-help book that costs $7.99.

I mosey on over to the “Relationships” aisle to take a peek. This is a wide aisle, yet it’s crowded. Many are trying on relationships for compatibility—romantic, platonic, even professional. As I make my way down it I can see the various sub-sections: friendships, family, marriage, colleagues, even community. Some people are shaking hands, some are holding hands, some are snuggling, others are arguing. Some don’t seem to be talking to each other at all, though they’re “together.” There’s a little bit of everything going on and it’s hard to figure out. But I definitely want to check out this aisle again in the near future.

I turn a corner and stumble into the “Spiritual Growth” section. It’s not as dazzling as others—no neon signs to light it up. It’s pretty quiet too. There’s a small handful of people standing and talking in small, intimate groups or one-on-one. Some are sitting down and reading. Others seem to be in quiet contemplation. I wonder how these people are ignoring the raucous laughter coming from “Living in the Moment,” which is so loud it seems to be just one aisle over. I find it hard to concentrate on the selections in front of me because I keep wondering what’s going on over there. I make a few hasty selections and keep on going, telling myself that I’ll be back to this section soon.

Before I know it I’ve filled up my cart. I’ve selected a lot of interesting stuff, including “finding the right man,” “get the right education” and some “be the best you can be” thrown in for good measure. I notice that some of my potential purchases come with warning labels—“May be hazardous for your health” and “Caution: proceed carefully”—but I ignore them. It’s just so thrilling to be able to buy whatever I want. I can always return them if they don’t work out, right?

Choices always lead to consequences

My first real trip into the LIFE store came at 17 when I left home for college. I remember being so excited! My last night at home dad came and sat on my bed. I’m sure he had some last words of wisdom for me, but I don’t know what they were. I wasn’t listening.

I was about to be turned loose with a credit card that has unlimited purchasing power called CHOICES—I couldn’t wait.

My parents probably didn’t think I was ready, and honestly…I wasn’t. That’s just the truth of it. Nothing could prepare me for the vastness of this store—except experience.

The thing is, experience costs. It’s an expensive purchase with a non-refundable policy, but we have to buy it.

Did I make some foolish purchases? Yes.

There was the time I stayed up all night watching movies instead of studying. I told myself “I’ll turn the TV off soon and be in bed by a decent time.” But then…SWIPE! I made a different choice, the purchase went through and the charge showed up on my CHOICES statement.

I made other choices that I paid a price for: I slept in and skipped classes. SWIPE! I forgot a class deadline, even failed an assignment. SWIPE! I changed my major midway and had to take an extra year to complete my degree, which cost me money and time. SWIPE!

Move forward

It’s one thing to browse, it’s another to buy. Once I swipe my CHOICES card there’s no turning back. Sometimes I buy things I can’t afford. I don’t count the cost first, or I make emotionally-charged purchases. I’ve invested—personally and professionally—in ways I thought were good at the time, but ended up costing me far more than I’d budgeted for. For example, there was that time I leased an office before I had any clients, and the time when I took on a partner who didn’t end up pulling his weight, and the time when I tried to help someone I thought was a friend but wasn’t, and the time when I wasn’t the friend I ought to be…

If life were a store and my life was a reflection of things I’ve filled my cart with, I’d definitely be experiencing some buyer’s remorse and some regret for my impulsive spending. It would have been good if I’d taken a second look at that cart before checking out—but I didn’t.

I could get really hung up on that. I could sit around with the receipts from old purchases and lament over how stupid I’ve been, how much money I’ve spent, how much time I’ve lost. I could complain about the fine print that I didn’t read carefully.

Or…I could move forward. The past is the past. It’s shaped me, it’s hurt me, but most importantly it’s taught me. Or has it?

Sometimes we don’t make the connection at all. Perhaps we complain about how difficult the store is being instead. We didn’t make the wrong choices. The store mislabeled things, packaged them wrong, or sent us home with the wrong item. We were forced to buy the wrong thing (or so we tell ourselves), or our purchase was defective.

Start making better choices

I’m not done shopping. I still have buying power and there are more purchases to make, one of the most important being my attitude. Every day I get to choose what to focus on. I determine whether I want to be a victim of my past choices (and others’) or not. I decide to smile or frown, laugh or cry. I do this with God’s help—or as a former pastor called it, by having a “high altitude attitude.” A high altitude attitude keeps my mind on what God wants me to think about, what decisions are in His best interests for me, not my own. I could get buried by past debt but keeping my mind focused on God’s future plans for me helps to shift my focus forward. Today I have the ability to make better purchases that will shape what tomorrow looks like.

Learn from your choices and then teach others

My responsibility doesn’t end there, however. What good is it if I learn from my past purchases, but I don’t share that knowledge? That’s selfish.

I’m not talking about lecturing others about their mistakes or coming across as a self-righteous “know it all.” No one likes (or listens to) people like that.

I’m talking about having genuine love and concern for others and their own struggles to make wise choices. One of the most powerful ways to teach is through example. If you have struggled and overcome, there’s no shame in sharing. Your story may be the catalyst for someone else’s change, the hope that another clings to when they’re overwhelmed by life decisions.

Sometimes your story is something you tell. Sometimes it’s something you live. Sometimes it’s both. People can tell when your life is reflecting better choices. They can see the fruit of that—it shows on your face, the way you move, the way you talk , the way you treat others and the way you treat yourself. That may lead to people asking you, “What’s different?” So, you tell them. You may choose to find a way to share your story in other ways. Be a mentor, be a blogger, a coach or teacher. There are many ways to pass on your hard-earned experience.

Live with fullest intention

If life is one giant store, then I want to enjoy my shopping experience. I want to be intentional about my purchases, knowing that I can’t take them back once I’ve swiped my card. I want to shop with the confidence and assurance that God is directing me, and that my purchases are leading me to a greater purpose. I know where I’ve been and I know where I’m headed—to the

 “Learn from My Mistakes and Move On” aisle. See you there.

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