One Stupid Decision Away

By all accounts, Steve McNair, the Titans famed quarterback, was a gifted leader. He led the Titans to the playoffs four times and eventually to Super Bowl XXXIV. He was loved by teammates, fans, and the media. In Nashville, he was a local hero.

A Fork in the Road - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #3253553

Photo courtesy of ©

But off the field, his life gradually unraveled. He was arrested for DUI and illegal gun possession in 2003. Four years later, in 2007, he was again arrested for DUI, along with his brother-in-law. He was traded to the Baltimore Ravens in 2005 and then retired in April 2008 at the age of 35.

Sadly, just one year later, he was found dead in a rented condominium in Nashville, along with his 20-year-old mistress. Eventually, the police determined that McNair’s girlfriend had shot him in his sleep and then killed herself. Their deaths were ruled a murder-suicide.

I don’t recount this tragic story to judge Steve McNair. We are all sinners. In the words of John Bradford, “But for the grace of God go I.”

But McNair’s story is a cautionary tale. It is a reminder that all of us are only one stupid decision away from destroying our lives and our legacy. It is sobering, isn’t it?

I doubt that McNair woke up one morning and thought, You know, I think I’ll have an affair with a woman nearly half my age. It will be fun for a few months. But then she’ll kill me, then herself. My wife and my four sons will spend the rest of their lives trying to forgive me.

No, we never have that kind of clarity at the beginning. Instead, we make some small decision. Perhaps for McNair, it was simply a choice to flirt with an attractive waitress at a restaurant he frequented. Then it snowballed from there.

One bad decision became two. Two became three. And eventually it cascaded into a violent, unexpected end. Twenty years from now, his family and friends will still be trying to get over his untimely—and unseemly—death.

But Steve is gone. What are the lessons for us? We still have choices ahead. I think there are at least five:

  1. We never make decisions in a vacuum. Everything matters. Our words and actions will echo into eternity.
  2. One moment of indiscretion will be remembered forever. It can wipe away a lifetime of good deeds, all of which will be forgotten.
  3. We are all vulnerable to lapses in judgment. If we think we are not, we are setting ourselves up for failure.
  4. We need to build a support system of family and friends who will care enough to challenge us when we veer off course.
  5. We need to live our lives on-purpose. In my experience, the best way to do this is to create a life plan and review it frequently. If you don’t have a road map, you could end up anywhere.

As humans, we have the privilege of determining our legacy. We can decide how we want to be remembered. But this is not a single choice; it is a series of choices. It’s never too late to change course and make your life count.

Question: How do you want to be remembered? What decisions do you need to make today to move yourself toward that outcome? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Donald James Parker

    This is an awesome post. Life is fragile handle with prayer. Whenever we seek our own pleasure instead of God's will, we detour off the right road. Not everybody finds their way back.

  • Michael Holmes

    It's funny… a guy I knew died in a somewhat similar fashion. He had four kids and a wife but was having an affair. He then found out his mistress was HIV positive. He was so overwhelmed with guilt that he killed her and himself. Now he's left his four kids, wife, brother, mother, and sister in a state of shock! He was 30 years old.

    I keep thinking: "Did he ever consider his legacy? How he'd be remembered? Where he'd be going?" Not to judge him because if it weren't for the grace of God who knows where I'd be?? But it does make you realize the power of decisions.

    Great post!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Michael. That was exactly the point I was trying to make. Every decision matters and "leaves a wake."

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  • Cheri

    This is a great and thoughtful post. Very timely given many recent deaths. I just spent the weekend using your template to put together a Life Plan. Thank you for sharing your great tools!

  • Jill

    This is such a challenging post. A great reminder that everything we do counts for eternity.

  • Anne Lang Bundy

    We make some small decision … Everything matters. Our words and actions will echo into eternity. Without a viewpoint of eternity, we can cause devastating damage. With it, we can impart life and hope.

    Not to take away from the impact of the negative consequences made startlingly clear here, but we can also do a lot of good with one small decision. Some months back I made time to visit an old mentor with cancer. I prayed the Lord would give me words of encouragement for my friend.

    His funeral is today. The obituary said of him, "He [recently] wrote that the first thing he looked forward to [in heaven] was the full realization of the truth of Romans 8:1."

    Those were the words I spoke to him that day. He wept when I spoke them, but I had no idea they would sustain him through his battle with cancer.

    • Michael Hyatt

      You are exactly right. Our good actions also create waves.

  • Robert Taylor

    You've reinforced something I have noticed over my lifetime. Many times we make decisions without thinking of consequences. (It's the delusion of our age that you can play without paying.) We don't always decide but our decisions decide our lives for us. Thanks for the continued insight.

    • Michael Hyatt

      As someone noted on Facebook in response to this post, "we can choose our sins, but we can't chose the consequences."

  • Felicity

    An acquaintance posted on Facebook, "Is flirting innocent or a guilty pleasure?" It is exactly the kind of question we all ask – hoping we can get some slack – but the answer can be shockingly obvious. Guilty. And the pleasure will likely be very short-lived. Good perspective.

  • Judith Robl

    In the words of Nathaniel Hawthorne, every action carries within itself the seeds of its own reward or punishment. We do well to try to foresee the consequences of our actions.

    You might find this book interesting

    I reviewed it for Thomas Nelson a few weeks ago. Much needed advice for our young people.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, this book by Andy Stanley is his newest one and is a winner. I hope to review it on my blog soon.

  • @halhunter

    The sad truth is that we have heard this particular story because it involves someone very much in the public eye, but the same basic story is repeated over and over again every day by people far less famous but still with family and friends who bear the consequences of bad choices. Not every one of these stories involves murder or suicide, but every one of them involves shattered lives and ruptured relationships. Not many make decisions based on the long-term results- but they ought to.

  • Santos Samayoa

    Great Post Michael. Really makes you think about life, how important it is and how short it is. Valuing our decisions is Valuing our lives which ultimately will impact our legacy. Thanks for the eye opener.

  • Lance

    It seems we always look at consequences as a personal risk, rather than a single domino capable of destroying thousands of tiles not our own. The scars he crafted are no longer his, but ones that will fester within his family, possibly for generations.

  • GinaG

    Another thoughtful, insightful post. Thank you! May we all embrace enthusiastically the challenge of living deliberately!

  • Lynn Rush

    Great post, Michael. You're right, we can't judge him; however, we can learn from him and his mistakes. I pray someone is impacted for the positive during this tragic time.

    How do I want to be remembered? As a Christ-loving wife who loved her family and friends unconditionally. I have my accountability group pray for me frequently to keep me on track as I do for them. It's so important to have godly people prayin' for ya constantly.

    Great post. Thanks for it. Such a tragedy.

  • Jeffrey Holton

    My ethics professor in seminary, Dr. Dick Spencer, used to occasionally lower his normally booming voice to a sinister whisper and remind us, "Sin opens up a doorway shimmering with chaos."

    I regularly remember that line 15 years later as one of the most emotionally powerful warnings I have ever been given. It's not just the words, but the tone of voice. He delivered it like a master storyteller, a sort of Christian Stephen King, except this was REAL!

    Has it stopped me from sinning? Oh, how I wish. But at least I can share the warning with others in the hopes of eliminating a little bit of chaos.

    On a brighter note, in recent years I've come to recognize that the opposite is true as well. We have NO IDEA how long-lasting the effects of our good actions are.

    I think God likes doing that to keep us humble.

    I'm sorry for McNair and his family. Honestly. And your post has taught me that the lesson here is not "Don't have an affair, Jeff," but, "Don't flirt with the waitress, Jeff."


  • marinaberryman

    Jeffrey, I'm still shivering from your professor's quote "sin opens up a doorway shimmering with chaos." That is incredibly powerful imagery. I attended a memorial service yesterday for a 16 yr old young man who died of an accidental drug overdose on Monday night. His family is devastated. The church was filled with teens who most likely have done their share of flirting with the dark side. I don't believe the boy had ever been to church before and mostly likely had never professed any kind of personal faith in Christ. It's a double tragedy, really, a wasted life and then quite possibly an eternity apart from God.

    Sin is shimmering and enticing and deceitfully delightful…chaos appears bright, exhilarating and attractive, but it is a trap, a death sentence, whether physical or spiritual or both.

    Very timely post. Thank you.

  • patriciazell

    I think one of our biggest problems is that we allow our hearts to rule our heads. When our focus in on "feeling" good or happy, we open ourselves up to falling prey to temptations and making destructive decisions. We are seeing this more and more in marital relationships, but it is also true in our relationships with God. If we look at the different fads in Christianity, many of them are based on feelings. Those feelings get us nowhere when temptation and trouble strike.

    Christ provided us the escape route from making destructive decisions–he made the way for us to go to God and ask for knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. If we take advantage of what Christ has done, we will become equipped to overcome the impulsivity that can lead to big-time trouble. Reason, not feelings, will win the war against the kingdom of evil–the war that took Steven McNair's life–and usher in the return of Christ.

  • Kyle L. Olund

    Mike, a tragic story such as Steve McNair's always brings to mind a great book that Thomas Nelson published years ago: THE SAMSON SYNDROME by Mark Atteberry. It's basically a book about why strong men fail and what we all can do to avoid situations that can (and usually do) destroy us and everyone/everything in our paths. I don't mean to turn your blog into a promotion spot for Thomas Nelson products, but I couldn't recommend more highly this book. (Plus, since I’m not a Nelson employee it should be OK.) It’s great to read on your own, but even better to go through with a group of guys.

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  • Dayle Shockley

    Michael, I can't remember when I've read something so stirring. The five take-away lessons you list are so spot on. I pray everyone who reads this, including myself, will take these lesson to heart and never forget the tragic end of Steve McNair.

  • Genni Gem

    I felt very touched when i read the news about Steve McNair and the agony his wife will be going through. Exactly 10 years ago i was in a similar kind of scenario when i was pregnant with my second son, one saturday afternoon my husband said to me he was going to visit his Aunt in a neighouring town and that was the last time i saw him alive. On his way back he had a car crash and died on the spot. I later got to know he went to visit his girlfriend and he was coming back to ask for a separation. Others said he was waiting for me to have the baby and leave etc. Mine it was PAINFUL! and still battling the pain.Alot of unanswered questions! The decisions we take go a long way.

  • Spud

    Like rock stars, pro athletes usually have groupies readily available wherever they go. I can't imagine the pressure of constant temptation on righteous Christian athletes. I taught last week about the answer in 1 Corinthians 6. It sounds easy: flee sexual immorality. Run from it! It can be difficult to do when its all around you and the world tries to sell you stuff through the "lust" gene.

  • Robert Treskillard

    Thanks, Mike, for handling this in such a straightforward and truth-filled way. This is a message every person needs to hear each and every day.

  • Daniel Decker

    It's so sad to see things like this happen. The rise and fall. So many once great men and women who reach a level of success only to have that success be their demise. The success alone wasn't the problem, it's that the success afforded the ability to amplify the temptations and character failures within and around them. Money, power, and influence… all three are kind of like FIRE. If used right they can keep the food warm. If used wrong, they can burn the house down.

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  • Rhonda

    This article should be required reading for every high-dollar entertainer before he or she signs his/her name on any contract. Well said, Michael.

  • Ron Edmondson

    This is a great post and one we all need to remember. I'm reminded of a verse that has always been a sobering reminder for me:

    Ecclesiastes 10:1:
    As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.

  • dfoster7597

    Hi Mike, I did not follow this news story that much but now that I read your post I see how tragic a story it really was. Casting Crowns has a great song called "Slow Fade" that reminds me of these types of decisions that we can all make in our lives that can lead to disaster. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Lizzie

    Great thoughts. You're right that decisions affect the rest of our lives.

    We're dealing with the consequences of my husband's decisions and it hasnt' been fun or pretty. Thank God that He is good!


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  • Dawn Wilson

    I write about choices every day, and I would definitely like to quote from this post. We simply don't understand how even our simple, daily choices shape our lives and legacy. Thanks for your wisdom, Michael. I'm buying that book you mentioned on Twitter today (How the Mighty Fall). I'm sure it must be full of "choices" to examine.

  • Kim Smith

    After reading this posting, I sunk into a thought provoked depression. You see, I've made several stupid decisions and my life has suffered greatly. A divorce, after an affair…a child in prison and I was a deeply committed Christain until my world was rocked by other's stupid choices. I felt your article stated a lot of facts, but left out one major area of what Christ taught us when He came to live among us. That being "Grace". Even if you make stupid choices, Christ offers grace….and without that, I wouldn't have had any reason to go on….I'm thankful for that amazing grace….it's what has saved me…

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  • Ed Underwood

    I loved this the first time. As a seasoned pastor I've watched so many good men and women lose so much over one stupid decision.

  • Lynn

    Overconfidence was my downfall. One should not assume that a “normally smart person” must know what he or she is doing if every appearance is to the contrary. I wish someone had risked offending me by challenging my thinking, rather than politely watch while I sank in quicksand.

  • Jeff Clarke

    As simplistic as it may seem, living for the ‘other person’ and not for ‘self,’ will more often than not lead to a life of consistent joy, peace, contentment and purpose. The moment ‘self’ becomes the object of our supreme affection, we’re already on a wrong path. Focus on the good of others; spouse, family, friends and strangers, and you should be just fine. This kind of perspective will guide your every decision.

    Thanks for your post!

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  • Richard Hartian

    Very well said Michael. This is the first post that I have read of yours. I was looking at my twitter account @moneypress and saw Thomas Nelson, noticed that we were following each other and strayed from writing my own post on one of my blogs. The timing was good as I just started reading “Living the Life You Were Meant to Live” by Tom Patterson. I love the premise that we were created for a purpose. I look forward to spending some more time on your blog…thank you

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Richard. I hope you enjoy what you find here.

  • Paul Stanley


    Speaking from personal experience, you are right on target. I said many time that we’re all an eighth of a second away from doing something really stupid and it making the front page. In my case, it was fourteen days in a row; most above the fold.

    While it ended a life I had known for over fifteen years, it didn’t completely end my life. There’s a line in a popular movie that says, “You can get busy living or get busy dying.” I decided the former was better than the latter.

    You bring out some important points, but finding an accountability group is most important. While your spouse needs to be a big part of that process, having a small group of Christian friends of the same sex you can speak frankly with is recommended. My goal in my upcoming memoir is to capture your comments and expand on others so we never forget in this electronic age, just about everything we say and do can be preserved and viewed for as long as our world exist. Keep up the great work.

  • Nicole

    So true. I would probably add one more to the list. I think I first heard it from preacher Andy Stanley.

    Most things in life seem to center around who you know, what you know, or what you do. But the most important thing is who you are (character/integrity). If you make all your important decisions in that category first, the other areas will fall into place. If you do it out of order…. you already provided an example.

  • Ron Davison

    I only heard a few words of a song that I would really like to find. It was something like, “We are only one decision away from becoming a family.”
    Ron Davison
    801 400 4529

  • Dan Brennan

    Good thoughts, brother, on purposeful choices. 

  • Ken Lang

    Thanks for the post – I will be posting this to my FB account – Blessings!

    Ken Lang

  • Rodney Clements

    Thanks Michael!  A perfect introduction to my sermon this Sunday.  Blessings!

  • John Lambert

    Wow!  I think we need this example often in our culture.  Too often, we don’t consider the full end of our actions.  Proverbs calls it the “aharit.”  I read a book once called “Overcoming The Dark Side of Leadership: The Paradox of Personal Dysfunction.”  In it the author talks about how the very qualities that got us into leadership can eventually become our downfall….For instance, risk taking.  He challenges leaders to come to grips with the potential in each of us and deal with it head on.

  • Brett Cooper

    Very true and wise. I must say, though, that it seems hollow and a missed opportunity to mention “lapses in judgment” and not mention sin. Perhaps you don’t feel you can go there in this forum. You point to the grace of God. “There but for the grace of God go I” is a truism I often recall. I think it’s good to remember that sins are personal choices of selfishness that turn us away from God and the protective grace he wants us to abide in. That turning away all too often leads to further sin, greater emptiness and eventually despair. Redemption is always at hand for anyone who humbly turns back to God. Regardless, thanks very much for the article!

  • Susan Baganz

    This seems to be a negative version of The Butterfly Effect (Andy Andrews) We can impact millions, in in a positive way, unknowingly, through positive and good actions and choices. The same is also true with what happens when we choose sin that initially seems very private. It can have a ripple effect through many lives and history as well.

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  • Mom2HandH

     Moses murdered a man. David plotted not only adultry but murder. Peter denied Christ not once but three times. Paul was a known Christian killer. God has a history of taking people whoh ave made bad decisions and using them in an incredi…ble way. Just because you made a bad decision doesn’t mean God can’t use you anymore. The story is very sad, but I don’t think we need to live in fear of making “one bad decision”…more of missing when God calls us to do his will, even though we have messed up. 

  • Carol Cool

    An important reminder that I need to remember every day. It’s so easy for me to just let one day slide into laziness and then . . .

    • Michele Cushatt

      Isn’t that the truth. All it takes is one small, seemingly meaningless decision (or day) at a time …

  • levittmike

    We can go from hero to goat in an instant.  One bad decision can impact a lot of things/people/events.  We need our Daily Bread every day, so that in our walk in life, we make the best choices.

  • Andy

    If it’s never too late to change the course of your life, then I think it’s hard to call it one stupid decision. I think it’s more of a mindset than a single decision. The chain reaction is a result of the mindset.

  • Jwmonty72

    I can appreciate the idea that decisions we make have lasting affects on us and others. The problem I have is that we have no way of knowing the ripple that is created. Perhaps we do with our immediate family and friends, but after that not really. As to the results for eternity, I am not sure we have any way of knowing if there is a cause and effect relationship. Seeking God’s will is pretty tenuous, at best. Perhaps just using good common sense is God’s will.  

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  • mlukaszewski

    Absolutely haunting and true.

    Yet for those of those who have made tragic mistakes, God’s grace and mercy are new every morning.  We cannot erase sin’s consequences, but at the heart of the Gospel is renewal and the ability to start fresh.

  • Ines Franklin

    Mike, this reminder is so needed by all of us. The wrong direction starts with our mind, then our eyes and soon our feet.  It doesn’t take long before the ending of the story goes far darker than the preview.  For some of us, were it not for the grace of God, there would be no legacy to speak of.  We’re truly blessed if we are given a chance to rebuild our reputation. It’s much easier not to deviate.

    We must bear in mind the words of wisdom from Proverbs 4:10-27 NIV:

    Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many. I instruct you in the way of wisdom  and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered;  when you run, you will not stumble. Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life. Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evildoers.  Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way. For they cannot rest until they do evil; they are robbed of sleep till they make someone tumble. They eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble. My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body. Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.

    Sweet as honey!

  • Cindy Finley

    How do I want to be remembered … Great question.  More than any other accolade, I want to be remembered as a wife and  mom who lived wholeheartedly for Jesus.

  • Thomas (TJ) Trent

    Simply illustrates the point “We are all one step away from stupid.” -John Maxwell

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  • Mark Randall

    So true. So true!

  • Dorci

    I hope to be remembered, first and foremost, as someone who loved God with all her heart, mind, soul and strength. I’ve made many mistakes in my lifetime, some of them big ones. And by God’s grace I’m still here. I’d like to think I’ve grown up since the days of being young and stupid, but I know that unless I keep my focus on Jesus, I’m still capable of turning down the wrong road. One thing I’ve learned is that we usually never make one bad decision that takes us under in a sea of good ones. We are given warnings. In the case of Steve McNair, one of his first warnings was his first dui. Second warning: second dui (although I’m sure there were many others). Just like we give our children warnings, God gives us warnings when we’re veering off onto the wrong path. We can ignore them and continue on, or heed them and turn back. Hopefully, with age we learn to heed a little quicker. And hopefully we teach our children to do the same.

  • Akmal Akbarov

    I want to be remembered as a loving and caring father, husband, son, teacher and blogger. )) Thanks Michael for yet another inspirational blog post ))

  • Mark Olivito

    Awesome, if not sobering post! Decisions (good OR bad) have a tendency to compound over time. Considering legacy daily is one small way to tilt the odds in your favor, you lay it out well in the life plan doc you have generously given away. Thank you!

  • Judi

    I love this post! Thanks for the wonderful reminder. One of my favorite quotes also reminds me every day that WE have a choice and that our choices determine our altitude in life. I hope this inspires you like it inspires me:

    “Between stimulus and response there is a space. And in that space is the POWER to choose your response. And in your response lies your growth and freedom.”- Viktor Frankl

  • danieltroutman

    This is a powerful post. It is so true. It’s scary to realize that one bad decision can undo so much hard work. This post scares me in a good way. Thanks for being bold enough to talk about this issue.

  • Sherri L. Bartin

    Awesome post.

  • Scott Milnes

    Excellent article, Michael. I agree, and often say that every decision is a spiritual decision. From what we eat and drink, to how we spend our time and money, all these decisions impact our direction- and therefore our destiny. Keep up the great work, and may God continue to bless you and your family!

  • Jeneen Jefferson

    I want to be remembered as a great mother, a great wife, a super confidant. Also a woman who had great compassion for people and loved without reservation. I want to be remembered as an inspiration to all, whether I am speaking and teaching, through my books or just in regular conversation.

  • Jhing Ayco

    I agree on the importance of having a life plan and most specially living a life with a purpose it is our very guide to making better life decisions and always be on the right track.

  • Cathy Pullins

    There is something more, Christ followers believe that Christ died for our sins –all of them–the small ones and the big ones. We refuse his great gift when we hold onto the guilt he gave his life to remove. PEOPLE do as you wrote — forget your good deeds but GOD will forget your mistakes too. He only requires that you accept his forgiveness and get back on the right path. Today and any day. Spread the Good News.

  • revreaves

    Very good words. Just one personal pet peeve — the use of the phrase “but for the grace of God go I” really annoys me.

  • J!

    Still makes my heart very sad.

  • dr_shawncandrews

    We support MN Teen and Adult Challenge. The stories of lives changed and the redemption people find through Christ in the most horrific of life conditions is truly amazing. I always tell people that we are all one dumb decision away from ruining our lives. Thank God we serve a gracious God! Thanks for this reminder today!