Friday, May 31, 2013

Small Choices and Purpose

“Always do your best.”

Don Miguel Ruiz –The Four Agreements

“Life is the sum of all your choices.” 

Albert Camus

“Sometimes it’s the smallest decisions that can change your life forever.”

Keri Russell

On recent radio shows I spoke about the power of small choices and how they can lead to big results. 
Here are some ways that works.
-                Spending a little time every day with my kids can lead to more harmonious relationships, when they get older.
-                Saving 10% from every paycheck can lead several thousand dollars every year.
-                Listening to educational or informational material just 30 minutes a day while going to work adds up to 200 hours of study a year.
-                Taking five minutes to clean one room in the house can create a whole new environment.
-                Waking up 30 minutes earlier every day adds over 500 hours a year.
-                Cleaning out my car every day for five minutes a day can make a huge difference.

The same principle can be approached with a more negative perspective.
-                If I leave for works five minutes later, I will be increasingly stressed with each red light or traffic problem.
-                If I leave work early and/or arrive late just five minutes a day, I will have lost 18 to 36 hours of productivity a year.
-                Two hours of TV, five nights a week, costs over 2000 hours a year with nothing to show for it.

The power of small choices then is sobering.  In the book of Matthew, two faithful servants are rewarded according to their results, but both are rewarded and both are told, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  The servant who made two wasn’t told, “How come you didn’t make five like the other servant?  What’s wrong with you?  Why don’t you work harder?  Look what the other servant did!”
At the same time, he wasn’t rewarded as highly as the other servant.  There didn’t appear to be any personal judgment or criticism in the reward.  The second servant simply got a reward commensurate with his work.
What happened with the second servant?  Perhaps he didn’t work as hard as the first servant.  Perhaps he had more commitments.  Perhaps he wasn’t as focused.  Perhaps he had ADHD or a family or he was sick.  Perhaps he had less training or experience.
Perhaps the result he got was all he wanted.
All we know is he fairly got what he earned.  He also didn’t seem to express any unhappiness with his supervisor or with his reward. Like the other servant, he doubled his money.
I don’t think it’s important that I am the servant who makes five or two; I think it’s important that I do my best.  I think it’s important to not be the servant who makes nothing.  He got kicked out of the kingdom.  He was not punished for his results, but for his laziness. 
If he had simply put his money in the bank, that would have been enough.  What would it mean to put my money in the bank with regard to effort?  It means that I should at least do the very least I can do.  Perhaps, there would have been a small reward or even no reward at all, but I would have at least had a little something to show for my efforts and I wouldn’t have been kicked out of the kingdom.
The problem with doing the very least is that it leaves me without the respect of others and without self-respect.  It’s acceptable, like getting a C or a D.  I passed, but it didn’t feel very good, especially when I knew I could have gotten an A or even a B.  When I think about my college grades, I am not happy with any C’s or D’s, except for an upper-level chemistry class.  I almost failed that class because I didn’t have enough background in math or science.  I actually got the lowest score in the class on the first test and was kindly told by the professor that I wasn’t ready.  Had I failed I would have had to extend my schooling for at least a half a year.  But doing the best I could, I got a D and saved myself time and money.  I did my best.
Doing my best is all that is required.  Effort is usually more important than results.  Effort is what leads to results.  Now if my efforts are not giving me the desired results, perhaps I’m expending energy in the wrong place or in the wrong way.  That’s another discussion.
For now, I know I need to do by best.  As Don Miguel Ruiz says, our best is different at different times.  The only thing that is consistent is that each time, I have to Get Started and Keep Going.