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.