Consider this: In three weeks time, you have a big presentation to a long-hoped-for new client. Three weeks is plenty of time, though, so each day you sit down at your computer and, instead of working on your presentation, play game after game of Desktop Tower Defense. Three weeks and a day later, you’re clearing out your desk after being let go for failing to get that big wished-for client.
Or this: It’s the night before the Big Exam. For weeks you’ve been skipping class or, when you did show up, wiling away your classroom hours by texting back-and-forth with your friends. Now, with imminent failure facing you, you decide to go blow off steam with your friends. Hung-over and unprepared, of course you fail the Big Exam. Which means you fail the class and, since your GPA has slipped to an unacceptable level, you lose your athletic scholarship. You won’t be back in the Fall.
Or this: The Coach purse in the display window looks so pretty, so alluring, that you just have to have it. It will pull you up a little short on this month’s budget, but you’ve been good lately, right? Surely you can tighten your belt a little in exchange for treating yourself to something nice? Three weeks later, the transmission craps out on your car. With no money in the bank, you’re forced to use public transportation for the first time in your life. Not knowing the schedule very well, you’re late to work every day for a week; on payday, the boss tells you that they won’t be needing your services any more.
This is not a post about making bad choices, though you’d be forgiven if that’s the lesson you’ve drawn from it so far. No, it’s not so much about making poor choices as it is about making a certain kind of choice, a choice made in the moment, for the moment, with little or no thought to consequences.
This kind of choice doesn’t always result in the kind of dire circumstances I’ve described above. Sometimes, everything works out fine. Occasionally, last-minute strokes of luck even pull our bacon out of the fire.
That’s not the point. The point is this: You can choose your actions, or you can choose your consequences, but you can’t choose both.
All the stories above are stories of people choosing their actions. Once you choose your action, the consequences follow from that choice with a will of their own. Choose drinking over studying? The consequence is liable to be failure. Choose hanging with your friends over seeing your child’s Spring recital? The consequence is liable to be the loss of your child’s trust, and possibly the lost respect of your spouse and other family. Choose to drive too fast to show off? There’s a good chance your action will lead to accident, injury, even death for you or someone else.
Or you can choose your consequences. If the outcome you want is success in your job, you probably have a pretty good idea of the actions you need to take to get it. Certainly prioritizing work over goofing off is part of it! If academic success is the consequence you’d like to enjoy, your plan of action is also pretty clear cut: a certain amount of study and organization is demanded. Maybe you’d like to build a loving, positive relationship with your children? You’re going to have to make a certain amount of time for that, even at the expense of other things you might like to be able to do.
You only get to pick one or the other, though. You can’t choose to drink and party and have the consequence be automatic success. You can’t choose to slack off at work and have the consequence be promotion. You don’t get to choose to spend your money frivolously and as a consequence have plenty in reserve when emergency strikes.
Now, we can’t always act according to clear-cut consequences, and certainly it’s worthwhile to live in the moment now and again. Which brings me to the last and most important part of all this: whatever you do, own your choice. If you choose dumbly, take full responsibility for the consequences of that choice. If you choose to act towards a desired outcome rather than deviate from that path, own that too – don’t kick yourself, or let others kick you, for your commitment.
It’s not so bad that people act in the moment and make poor choices; what makes it ugly is when they’re shocked, shocked I tell you, to find that they didn’t achieve the outcome they’d desired. Don’t be that person: if you can’t accept the consequences of your actions, don’t do them! No matter what you do, remember: the choice is yours.