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Choose Your Path Wisely

Young or old – every action you take has consequences – good or bad

By Joyce O’DayPublished 7 months ago 6 min read
Photo by author of a road in Northern Ireland used in the TV show "Game of Thrones."

On the road of life, every decision you make – big or small – creates a fork in the road. Some roads lead in brilliant directions, while others end in your own destruction.

Your decision to take advantage or pass on the opportunities you encounter will determine the course of your life. While it is possible to recover from a bad choice, a series of poor decisions will be costly and, in some cases, unrecoverable.

  • Deciding to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Deciding to cheat on a partner
  • Deciding to pursue a trade or live “the van life”
  • Deciding to have that extra serving of cake

The consequences of your decisions can be temporary or permanent – affecting you for a short time or influencing your life forever by sending you to prison, destroying a relationship, influencing your financial future, or compromising your health.

EVEN THE BEST DECISIONS DO NOT GUARANTEE A LIFE ON EASY STREET

Not all end up joining the billionaire class with Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk. While entering the ranks of the 1% does not guarantee happiness, finding yourself on the lower end of the financial spectrum is guaranteed to bring hardship.

In addition, the playing field is not even. Some individuals begin life with a head start thanks to inherited family wealth or being raised in the right zip code with better schools and lower crime rates. Others have a greater distance to travel in order to arrive at their preferred destination. Still, we all have a journey to take, and even trust fund babies can end up in a miserable situation if they choose the wrong path.

THE WORST OF IT

Many people never correct their path and end up in a tragic place. I have seen this up close and personal. From 2000 to 2007, I worked as a history teacher at a renowned performing arts high school in downtown Las Vegas. At the time, the neighborhood was one of sleazy bars and casinos. It attracted a motley crew of homeless, hookers, drug addicts, and degenerates.

On my morning drive to school at 6:30am, most of the people I saw were ending their day when I was just beginning mine. It was a weird situation to say the least. Occasionally, I would see a woman my age (early 40s at the time), either homeless, experiencing addiction, or working the streets. I had the profound realization that a few poor decisions when I was young and foolish could have landed me in her position.

While my classroom fortunately faced an inner courtyard, the classrooms with a street view regularly witnessed drug deals and prostitutes propositioning johns. It was a firsthand view of the failure of society. A series of poor life choices (one wrong decision after another) had brought these individuals to that tragic and pathetic place in their lives.

I recently traveled to Portland, Oregon. In the neighborhood near the famous Powell’s City of Books, there were encampments of homeless addicts, with hypodermic needles and other drug paraphernalia littering the sidewalks. In Seattle, San Francisco, and other west coast cities, the drug-addicted homeless dominate what was once walkable urban areas. These are not families suffering from bad economic times. They are people who have given up on polite society, choosing instead a life of meth and fentanyl.

THE ROAD TO HAPPINESS AND SUCCESS MAY NOT BE EASY, BUT IT IS OBTAINABLE

Determine your desired destination, forge a path in that direction, and keep moving. You cannot expect opportunities to come your way when you are parked on the side of the road. Occasionally, people are rescued after they have fallen into a ditch of their own making – usually by family or friends. However, most of us are left to pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, and get back on the road.

For the most part, you need to be on the road for doors of opportunity to open for you. This is why your eyes need to stay open – scanning the horizon for opportunities you may miss if you maintain tunnel vision on what you think should happen. Most of my biggest accomplishments have come from going through those doors of opportunity that suddenly appeared on my path.

Conversely, at times when I was pursuing my desired path, every door seemed to close in my face when people I reached out to ignored my overture, failed to follow through on promises, or outright ghosted me. Some things are simply not meant to be.

MAKE THE BEST OF WHATEVER SITUATION YOU ARE IN

You cannot control what family, country, or economic situation you were born into. People in Syria, Ukraine, and Honduras are confronting very different challenges than those in Tokyo, Amsterdam, or Montreal. However, you can control how you react to the conditions you find yourself in.

When you find yourself on the wrong path – turn back. Even if you have gone a long way, it is almost never too late to correct your path. It may not be easy, especially if you have traveled some distance. In addition, the consequences of your misadventures may haunt you forever, particularly if your path resulted in crime or addiction.

Changing course often results in the loss of some travel companions, which is generally a good thing. Some people will attempt to lure you back to their unsavory path just to keep them company on their road to destruction; cut those people out of your life. Those who truly have your best interests at heart will hold your hand or even carry you back to a safe place where you can begin a new journey; cherish those people.

NAVIGATING YOUR LIFE PATH

The farther along you are on the path of life, the more limitations you will encounter. At 18, even if you slacked off in high school – as I did – higher education or trade school is still an option if your career goals demand it and you are suited to the academic or technical curriculum. Still, you need to keep your aspirations reasonable. It is important to assess your strengths and weaknesses. Success comes from exploring what you love and avoiding what you dislike.

  • If you are tone-deaf, your desire to conduct an orchestra may be misplaced.
  • If bodily fluids make you queasy, a career in medicine will not work out.
  • If confronting large audiences and hostile individuals makes you uncomfortable, becoming a politician is a bad choice.

No one is good at everything. However, if you can earn a living doing something you enjoy, you are more likely to have a happy and fulfilling life and career. Doing something you despise in order to pay the bills brings a life of misery and frustration.

I know so many older people who lament their career choices – or their failure to make a plan. They ruminate on the options they turned down – in many cases for valid reasons. They were caring for sick family members. They did not have personal or financial support. They took the wrong advice. Or, they lacked confidence in their own ability.

WOULDA’, COULDA’, SHOULDA’

I have made some poor decisions in my life: relationships, career, clothing, you name it. I have often said things that I bitterly regretted later. Eventually, I came to slow down and trust my instincts. Whenever I began to question myself, it was the clue that I needed to hold back on that comment or action. When an angel is on one shoulder and a devil is on the other – always listen to the angel.

If you are young – in your 20s or 30s – take your time. Develop a plan – don’t expect to get to a desirable destination without a roadmap. Yet, be willing to pivot from your planned course when promising opportunities appear in a new direction. Think through major decisions that will have long-term consequences.

If you are older – in your 50s and 60s and well established on a path (chosen or otherwise) – make decisions that will support your long-term goals. While you can’t retrace your steps to erase the consequences of past decisions, you can still move forward with better choices. At any age, it is never too late to learn another language, pick up a musical instrument, or explore a new hobby.

AT EVERY STAGE IN LIFE, YOU MUST CONTINUE TO MOVE FORWARD

As “the Great One” Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” So, you need to take your shot, make your plan, and choose your path – wisely.

© Joyce O’Day 2023. All Rights Reserved.

AI was NOT used in the creation of this article.

This article was originally published at joyceoday.com on April 11. 2023.

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About the Creator

Joyce O’Day

After retiring from teaching world history for over 20 years, I am living every day on holiday: enjoying life with my family, traveling, gardening, engaging with my community in Las Vegas, and reflecting on the current state of the world.

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    Joyce O’DayWritten by Joyce O’Day

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