When it Comes to Decision Time, Apply the Rules of the Road

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference
–Robert Frost

Or, as Yogi Berra would say, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Unfortunately, you can’t go in all directions at once and you need to decide which road to take. As you approach these key junctures, you need to pay more attention, heeding oncoming traffic and evaluating the need for a change in direction. Fail to take these measures into consideration and you may end up making a wrong turn, or worse, end up in an accident.

So it is with life…ignore the intersections in your personal or professional world and you risk failure and wreckage. Just as you must adhere to the rules of the road when you’re behind the wheel, you must also use the same principles as you reach key decision points in your life.

  • Use a map. Your personal mission statement, like a good map, will set the direction of your journey. Consult it often. If you don’t know where you are headed any road will take you there.
  • Read the signs. Highway signs warn you of approaching intersections and what’s coming up ahead so that you can be prepared. Don’t ignore them. It is normal to be apprehensive as you come to these crossroads. Don’t let that apprehension freeze you, but let it gird you for the decisions that need to be made and the actions that follow. Make sure that you take advantage of all the resources you have in order to make the most informed decision. Stay tight with your customers, look for insights beyond your specific industry, consult others, read anything that will help you be more prepared.
  • Look at the dash. The gauges in your car warn you if you’re about to run into trouble. Are you going too fast? Do you have enough fuel? Are you running too hot? Are you in the right gear? In your daily travels, don’t forget to make sure you and your vehicle are in top working order. You can’t make good decisions or take advantage of all the opportunities if your car is running out of gas or if it needs maintenance. Likewise, if you’re tired and run down and you’ve ignored your family and friends and failed to invest in the intellectual, the emotional, and health aspects of your life, you may quickly find yourself on the road to ruin. And as you approach an intersection, don’t forget to use your turn signals; in other words, communicate.
  • Stop. Negotiating a crossroad means complete and total focus. This is not the time to be looking back and wondering about what might have been. Now is the time to pay full attention, to look squarely ahead at what is to come. Slow down, and even stop, to make sure you’re making the right turns and moving toward your destination. It’s too easy to get so wrapped up in the busy-ness of business that you keep it in cruise control and blow through the intersections. In the haste to get there, you miss critical junctures. You want to keep moving, to plow through projects, to finish your “to-do” list. Stopping can keep you from going in the wrong direction, expending and wasting an unusual amount of energy heading off in an unproductive direction.
  • Look. You need to have a clear vision of what lies ahead so you can make a better decision on which route to take. Often just a small shift in perspective changes how you react to a situation or condition and affects the way you approach the intersection. Consider the story of the small town that rested on the border between Canada and the United States. Each country claimed the town as its territory. Finally the matter was brought to court, and the judge decided in favor of the United States. At the end of the trial, as people left the courtroom, an old man was overheard commenting, “Oh, thank goodness. I just don’t think I could have survived another one of those cold Canadian winters!”
  • Listen. Your hearing will improve if you stop and look around. You need to be still and listen. What do you hear at this intersection about what’s going on in your life and the lives of those around you? As you evaluate the pros and cons of each option, determine which direction matches your resources and the customer needs. Then make the decision.
  • Shift into gear. By all means, make a decision. Do something. You run the risk of being bombarded from many directions if you stand indecisive at a crossroads on the road or in your career. Like it or not, decisions have to be made. Even refusing to decide is a decision. It’s decision by default, but a decision that nevertheless affects the road you are traveling. Indecisiveness often leads to disappointment, despair, and lethargy when people believe they have given up control of life to the forces that affect their lives. Rather than being in control, they are being controlled by the events that surround them.
  • Don’t look back. Indecisiveness may continue after a decision is made. Too much time and energy can be wasted speculating on whether the decision was the right one. All of us have wondered about “The Road Not Taken.” You have speculated about how life would have turned out differently if you had taken the other road. If you make a wrong turn, adjust your course and get back on track at the earliest opportunity. When an archer misses the mark, he turns and looks for the fault within himself. Failure to hit the bullseye is never the fault of the target. To improve your aim – improve yourself.
  • Stay focused. After you negotiate an intersection, you breathe a sigh of relief. But always realize another one awaits us. Some are closer together than others. You make it through some intersections almost without thinking. Others are extremely difficult. Whatever the degree of difficulty, follow the rules of the road.

Whether major or minor, points of decision are life’s intersections. Do not approach them reluctantly or with hesitation. To do so is to be doomed. A reluctance to commit at crucial moments may result in putting things off too long and risk never doing them. Some opportunities come and, if you fail to take advantage of them, they may never come again. Follow the blacksmith’s advice, “Strike while the iron is hot.” That is the only way you can choose your direction and shape your life.

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