The Power of Choice

You are born into this life, you live, and you die. Two of these events you have no control over, but one you do.

When I teach leadership, especially to young people, my central theme is how do you spend your time? My premise is that an essential trait of leadership – both personal and beyond – is that the choices one makes in how to spend their time speaks to the quality of one’s life, the richness of the experience, the impact and legacy of an individual and, in many ways, defines the character of the individual.

I use a simple example, lifted from my experience in YPO. You are in the doctor’s office and the doctor informs you your condition is dire, in fact, you are not likely to make it. The doctor offers you the opportunity to record you final thoughts. I ask what would you say, to whom, and what regrets would you have? I remind them this is not so silly an example by asking them to recall the recorded cell phone calls of the heroes of 911.

I then remind them that this is an exercise. If honestly done, they have given themselves a wonderful gift – the gift of insight. I remind them they also have the gift of time and the gift of choice. I ask what they are going to do with the list, and I suggest taking action and spending time on what matters.

I have had the joy of hearing from students. The impact of saying I love you to someone you had meant to say it to, but hadn’t; the change in career to follow a passion; time spent with family and friends; time spent in the service of others; time getting sober; time spent creating rather than following; finding the spirit within; living rather than going through the motions.

We are given choices in life. At ECS, we deal with the issues of poverty every day. Much of our thinking is shaped by the understanding that poverty robs people of choice, and that much of our work is about helping people restore the dignity of choice – choices that many of us take for granted. Poverty does not leave much time.

I tell my students that they control, to a large extent, how life turns out. Yes, you play the cards you are dealt, but so much in life comes down to choices. I tell them that while it is important to wisely choose how you spend your time, it is more important to conscientiously choose. You are born into this life, you live, and you die. You can let life live you or you can live life. Your choice.