JENNY R. SUSSER, PH.D.

POWER & PERFORMANCE SPORT PSYCHOLOGY SERVICES

Decisions, Decisions

Posted by on Jul 15, 2014

tough decisions

I think that the quality of our lives comes from the decisions we make. Bold statement, I know. Perhaps some luck is involved, but I’m not entirely sure how much. What is luck anyway? I hear so many definitions, it’s hard to really say what is true about luck. Then there is fate. Again, what is fate? Well, we could go on for hours here but what I want to write about are decisions and the interesting experience I had today.

I like to pay it forward when I can. Sometimes in the grocery store, I help out some folks who like they could use a hand and buy them “dinner” (pay for their groceries). I got that from a friend who is a geriatric physician and she taught me what to look for. You know, an elderly person, usually alone, the food on the belt is mostly staples…some meat or canned beans, a family pack of generic chips, no milk because it’s too expensive, and rarely fruits or vegetables. It makes them cry with gratitude and perhaps a bit of shame. It makes me happy and sad at the same time, but the happy outweighs the sad, so it’s well worth it.

I don’t look for these moments, what happens is someone catches my eye and I have that thought race past my mind saying I should help them. See, I really believe we are all in this together and that if I ignore someone else, I’m really ignoring everyone…including myself. I know I can’t help everyone, but there are times when it’s really awesome to help one person…or even another living being. I saved three frogs the other day when I was dragging my riding ring on the tractor. Little frogs, the size of the face on my watch and they hop around like crazy. I have to pick them up (yuck) because they can’t get to the edges and out of the ring in time and I can’t bare the thought of running them over—it’s far worse than picking them up! It’s funny how powerful it is for me to press through my discomfort of picking them up to save them. I felt proud and good and connected to it “all” when I did that. It still makes me smile.

Today I was behind a man at a gas station (no pay at the pump so I had to go in to pay). He had a ratty, old, beat up car, was a bit of a mess, and paid for $5 of gasoline in three, one-dollar bills and a handful of coins. He looked at me when I walked in behind him and was embarrassed to put the money on the counter that way. He paid and left and I stepped up to the counter somewhat affected. I handed the clerk my credit card and as I closed my wallet, I noticed the cash. I flipped through it quickly, $67 in various bills. I thought, is that a lot of money—to me? To him? I walked to my car and started pumping the gas. I could hear my inner voice telling me to help him. Should I go inside and tell her to put more money on my card for him? No, that might embarrass him further. I stood there, conflicted but wanting to help. So I grabbed two twenty’s and walked up to him. I asked, “Can I buy you a tank of gas?” He looked at me in shock and said, “A whole tank?” My chest hurt that a full tank of gas was such a surprise. “Yes,” I replied. “Why not?” he said without smiling. So I handed him the cash, let the wave of satisfaction wash over me and walked back to my car.

Not a minute later, he drove off in a hurry from the station, making sure not to look back as I watched. My heart sank. He took the money and ran, and not just so to speak. I could hear my mind going berserk: “I guess he needed it more for something else.” “Jerk (maybe something a little stronger might have emerged).” “I’m sure a sucker.” “What is wrong with people?” And then finally, I began to feel a little sadness for him. In my opinion, he violated his integrity for forty bucks. Another strong statement, I know. Who knows how important forty bucks is to him, but even though he wasn’t very well put together, he wasn’t starving (he had a belly), so forty bucks wasn’t between him and death. What really happened is he made, in my opinion, the wrong decision.

I hate it when people tell me I’m lucky to have the success I have. Lucky? Try hard working, tenacious, willing to sacrifice, resilient, motivated, focused, courageous, and a good decision-maker. These are all traits that I had to work hard to develop and maintain. I work very hard and found a way to love it (well, sometimes I will complain a bit). Not all of my decisions have been good, for certain! But I make decisions based on a checklist of sorts: What are my goals and is my decision in line with them? What will the short-term impact be? What will the long-term impact be? How will it impact others? Will it contribute or take away from the pieces and/or the whole? And most importantly, how will I feel about myself afterwards? I say to myself frequently, “short term pain for long term gain.”

It would have been “easier” to just ignore the frogs and drive over them with my tractor but I could not have possibly felt good about myself. It was about ten seconds of discomfort to save each one, but it paid off in spades in terms of how I felt. Because, and you can argue this with me, but I really think how we feel about ourselves is the most import feeling we have all day. When you feel good about yourself, your world changes. I feel badly for the man in the gas station because there is no way he feels good about himself tonight. And that forty bucks is going to be very unsatisfying money, no matter what he spends it on. See, I gave him that for gasoline. He can rationalize all day on whatever else he spent it on, but he should have gone inside, given it to the clerk, and then filled up his tank. But he decided to spend it elsewhere. So, I look at his life from my vantage point. Is he unlucky like I am lucky or does he lack quality decision-making? He has an old, beat up car that is falling apart, and he looks a mess. He does not look successful (from how we materialistically define success—but that’s a whole other blog), and he clearly lacks integrity. Perhaps he thinks he’s just unlucky or that life dealt him a bad hand but is that the truth? Makes me wonder if his life is a “mess” because of his circumstances…or because of his decision-making.

I think he has just set himself up for more failure. And yes, I think we could categorize today as a failure on his part. Based on his response to me, “A whole tank?” he is struggling to make ends meet. A whole tank of gas was not in his budget. But was driving off like that in his emotional budget? I wonder the true cost of that decision. I can only hope that his encounter with me creates some kind of opening for self-reflection and a better day tomorrow. Making excellent decisions is NOT easy, I know! But when we sacrifice our character for the variety of reasons we come up with, it remains a sacrifice no matter how you slice it. I have sacrificed my integrity plenty of times over the years and never felt better about it, no matter how positive I tried to perceive the result.

I wonder how his energy would have been affected had he used the money for gasoline? He was obviously presented with a mental struggle when I handed him the money: do I spend it on gas or on what I want or think I need? That is what I call a fork in the road. One direction leads to power, the other to justifications and excuses. I imagine how he felt about himself the rest of the day. Imagine if he had filled his tank with gas, even though there were several other things loudly competing for the money. Every time he looked at his gas tank gauge, he could have felt empowered (my fantasy) that someone cared. Instead, I wonder how he will feel for as long as a tank would have lasted. How about the way he felt the rest of the day, how about when he spent the money. I wanted him to feel good about something—himself, other people, or that something else might just be possible in life.

I hope he gets something more than forty bucks out of today. And I hope when you come to a fork in the road, you have gotten something out of reading this. Make a great decision that will lead to feeling great about yourself—no matter how difficult or initially uncomfortable it may be. That discomfort is quickly replaced by pride, power, self-worth, and usually, something better down the road.

18 Comments

  1. Hi Dr. Jenny! Love the blog! I use a similar word “choices”! I am constantly weighing my choices. I loathe when people say they didn’t have a choice. I always have a choice. How will I act? What will I say? What will I chose? Love or Fear? Which dog will I feed? You get the drift!

    Love this quote from you! Can I use it? “I really think how we feel about ourselves is the most important feeling we have all day. When you feel good about yourself, your world changes.” Dr. Jenny Susser

    • Hi Dolores!! Are things INTERESTING for you these days?!?! I hope you and Ginger are making great progress 🙂

      Yes, I love the word “choice” too, it is even more powerful than decision sometimes. I’m glad it’s something you have in your toolbox, ready for use all the time. Being at choice leaves you constantly empowered…no one else can take credit or blame. Talk about freedom!

      You may use that quote, of course, thanks for asking. Let’s hope that it helps many people feel good about themselves today!

      Dr. Jenny 🙂

  2. I think you just bought him a bottle or two. Cheers.

    • Hi Karen,

      While you might be right, my question is how to have this story make a difference…if not for him, then for you? I can judge him all day long but will that contribute? Without being in his shoes, can I know WHY he did what he did? Maybe he has a sick family member and that money just bought a day of medicine, who knows? Part of the point is that our decisions shape our life and sometimes, maybe all the time, we are not connected to our own power enough to realize that. Sometimes, we make excellent decisions and crappy things still happen. I find that the exception rather than the rule, which is why I wrote this blog.

      We seem to be so conditioned to be against each other that I would love to start a conversation for how to be in this together; can we return to a place of compassion instead of competition? I gave him the money to contribute to him. Somehow, I hope it did. Perhaps I wasn’t generous enough in the blog and your comment has helped me see this. I desperately wanted to make a difference for him, to have him see he had value, and that someone cared. I also want us all to be empowered by the decisions we make every day; to know that we have more control over the quality of our lives than we seem to think. Ultimately, that we have the power to be happy, everyday.

      Obviously, you care, and there is no greater starting point. Thanks for your comment and being part of the conversation.

      Best, Dr. Jenny

  3. Love this blog post Dr. Jenny. So timely too as I am currently having to make some really tough, life-changing decisions myself at the moment, as a result of perharps making other decisions that may or may not have been quite right, or more accurately, avoiding making the ones that needed to be made (ah, the fear factor!). Sorry to miss the super clinic, that one was just not in the cards as I had a prior personal commitment that simply could not be moved. Wishing you a great event in Ontario.
    Geneviève Benoit

    • Genevieve, I’m sorry we will not see you in August. I hope that your decisions begin to carry you in the right direction. Perhaps our paths will cross again in Florida. Until then, continue the work…

      Best, Dr. Jenny

  4. I love the idea that we can empower ourselves by choosing to connect with others in a positive way. In the case of the gentleman it was choosing to act and then letting go of the outcome – marvelous.

  5. Hey Dr Jenny,

    Always a special treat to hear what you have to say and how beautifully you say it. A much needed, informative, and personally helpful blog. Thank you!
    Many times I have become paralyzed by indecision and made no decision, which more often than not has been the worst decision; I took notes on your formula for making decisions and will refer to it.

    About the man at the gas station; No one forgets an act of kindness;
    I dont think he will forget what you did. When he spends that money he will think of it, and every time he partially fills his gas tank he will think of you; He may even look for you 🙂 Perhaps he really needed the money for something else, and he might have been embarrassed…who knows; I think he will ponder it with a a sense of both gratitude and guilt; And perhaps a dose of guilt is not a bad thing?? Perhaps it will fester and become some sort of catalyst for change; Who knows what efect it will have on him. You played you part and planted the seed; I think it will grow.

    In any case, some good has already come out of it; It made for a great and entertaining blog which has been fuel for thought for all involved.
    Thanks again!
    Julie

    • Julie,

      I always look forward to your thoughts on my thoughts! I hope you are right about the man at the gas station, that he got something more than forty bucks out of that exchange. I, too, know what it is to be paralyzed by indecision and have missing an opportunity or two myself! I hope you are more mobile from this :). You know, driven by PASSION!!!

      Best, Dr. J

      • :)) ty

  6. Decisions and choices. Sometimes their black and white. And sometimes they’re a fuzzy grey. Making a choice to walk down a path where the destiny is not clear … That should I stay or should I go decision. Perhaps one one decision is to stay in our comfort zone and the other to adventure beyond. Or trusting fate ad accepting that the path is not clear, can I accept the adventure or continually question. I’m trying to accept fate more now and see where it goes, to trust.

    • Life happens in the gray area…by the way 🙂

  7. I agree with you Dolores that is such a powerful quote! That one is going on my vision board and will be part of my daily thoughts. Thanks for an awesome and inspiring blog Dr. J!

  8. Interesting Facebook post today. For me, I honestly don’t follow the news directly as most pieces leave one with the sense of heavy destruction with well little recourse. In my free time I much prefer to listen to those that are making the world better for me I gotta have my daily doses of empowerment! There are many great organizations that make it their mission to help others. I love most the organizations that go a step further and help teach people how to fish so to speak as well as feed them and well manage extremely well every aspect of the org.

    Now I reminded to donate, and to engage. May we all remember to keep realigning ourselves with our highest good in the present. I think horses help a lot with that 😉

    Thank you for the blog and all the good work you do.

  9. Hi Jenny; I have a different view on this blog, personally I find it is filled with assumptions regarding the man at the gas station. What if he made the right decision for his life at that moment ? maybe milk and eggs were a better choice than a full tank of gaz to drive around town ? our perception is our reality but does it mean it is the other person’s reality ??? can’t wait to hear you in London next week end !

    • Yup Chantal, you have an excellent point. I made lots of assumptions and with little information. At some point, he will have driven enough to use a full tank of gas, I think I can safely assume. So, did he trade something internally by speeding off and using the money for something else? Again, I’m assuming yes. That was what made me stop and think, and share my thoughts with you all. I am also looking forward to the Super Clinic this weekend! Please come and say hello!
      Dr. Jenny

  10. I think every decision is the right decision in the moment. We all have various tools at our service, gained through our life’s experience. Each choice brings us to the next decision, and through these events we learn how the universe either provides when we trust it, or provides a new challenge with which to learn faith in. The event at hand is for our own lesson…do we trust the man to be open to receive. He did,,, where do we go in our mind? Obviously, we can go an infinite number of places. We open the heart and allow him to be free to choose. A gift is not a gift if it is given with the condition of having to use it a certain way, or even keep it. He very well may have a friend in need of exactly 40 dollars and was too introverted to explain any more than to say, “Why not.” As the giver, we find peace in the faith in the Way, and never need to know further than that moment. In an event like this, we can write our own ending to the story. Interestingly many people often write bad endings to their stories. I figure,,, if we get to make it up…make up something awesome!

    “Life’s like a movie. Write your own ending!” ~Kermit T. Frog

  11. “I really think how we feel about ourselves is the most important feeling we have all day. When you feel good about yourself, your world changes.” Dr. Jenny Susser

    Extremely powerful words. I was also wondering if I could use this quote?

    Great post that really makes a person think and reflect.

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