Your Life Is the Sum of Your Choices

I signed up to run the Country Music Half Marathon in January. The big race was on Saturday, April 28th. But I didn’t run.

A Man with Two Choices - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/eyetoeyePIX, Image #17906987

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/eyetoeyePIX

With the launch of my new book, Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, and several other projects in the works, I just didn’t have the time to do the distance training I needed to do in order to participate. (I have kept up with my normal running routine; I just haven’t done the extended distance work.)

On Saturday, several friends asked me how the half marathon had gone, including Andy Traub. Here was my exchange with him on Twitter.

Exchange with Andy Traub

This situation made me realize again the importance of owning my choices.

We can’t always choose what happens to us, but we can always choose how we respond. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist who survived two-and-a-half years in Nazi concentration camps, made this case in his bestselling book, Man’s Search for Meaning.

It’s easy to subscribe to this in theory, but what about your specific situation? Are you willing to own it?

For example:

  • Are you in a job you hate, living for the weekends?
  • Are you unemployed or can’t find a job?
  • Are you stuck in a bad marriage or going through a divorce?
  • Are you overweight, out of shape, or sick?
  • Are you lacking deep, meaningful friendships?

I am not asking these questions to shame you. I have gone through my share of setbacks and failures.

  • I have been fired (more than once).
  • I have gone through a business failure.
  • I have felt stuck in a job I hated.
  • I have gone through a protracted and expensive IRS audit.
  • I had to have emergency surgery when my gall bladder ruptured.
  • I have had a child in rebellion and on drugs.
  • I have had two daughters with chronic illnesses.
  • I have lost money on three out of four houses I’ve owned.

No, my life has not been a bed of roses. I’ll bet yours hasn’t either.

But blaming our circumstances or other people—even when they are partly or almost totally responsible—only makes us victims. It robs us of our freedom and keeps us stuck.

There is a better way. Change is possible. It can begin today.

You don’t have to stay stuck in the state you are in.

But first, you must own your specific situation and take responsibility for the choices that led to it. Only then can you begin to create a different future.

Question: What situation do you need to own? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://emuelle1.typepad.com/ Eric S. Mueller

    It’s important to stop and take a look around once in a while. I’m experiencing quite a few problems that I seemingly worked really hard to bring upon myself.  Change takes effort and energy, and has to be done purposefully. That’s probably why it’s hard. It is much easier to wallow in problems.

    I’m taking effort to fix some of the problems I’m living with.

  • Lisa Keck

    Aw gee can’t I blame genetics? I may have my father’s face but I got my mother’s weight problem, right? Oh wait a minute my own words are coming back to haunt me. I seem to recall telling her to stop blaming me for being overweight. She sounded like a broken record, reminding me that she gained 50 pounds when she was pregnant with me and hadn’t been able to lose it. I was in my early 20′s when I told her, she’d had plenty of time to lose it by then so she could stop blaming me.  

    I feel like I have some responsibility in 2 of my 3 situations that could be better. I could have taken steps to better health. I could have put more effort into my writing career, trying harder to push past the anxiety and insecurity. But the 3rd one has me stumped. I have no idea how I ended up with a daughter who doesn’t share my faith anymore. 

    Today is a brand new day so I will eat healthier and take exercise breaks while I’m editing two manuscripts (one at a time, of course) so they’re ready for contests. As for my daughter, I’m letting her Heavenly Father deal with her but I do remind Him that I’m hurting while I wait for her return. 

  • Kelli

    This was exactly what I needed to read this morning. I just went through an uncomfortable period of unemployment but today I chose to quit my new job because I have been miserable since Day 1. As the job search begins again, I will need to remember that I chose to quit and thus chose the consequences. The long-term consequences should be happiness and a better environment, but the short-term might not be so pleasant. Come what may, I own it.

  • http://www.andrewmackay.net/ Andrew Mackay

    This is powerful, timely stuff. My wife and I spent a late hour last night assessing what we say compared to what we do. It became quickly apparent that there’s a gap between what we claim to value and what we actually value as evidenced by our decisions. We resolved to start trying to own our choices — to realize in each moment that the activity we undertake is a statement of what we value. Thanks for the confirmation!

  • Kat V.

    Love this post – love sharing it with those I love and lead!  Thanks for your transparency and making us THINK!

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      Kat,
      I am with you. I love the transparency here. It gives hope to all of us who don’t have our act together, and puts to death to the lie that you have to be perfect in order to make a difference.

  • Sean_p_tingley

    Currently in a financial rut… have been for the last several years.  I’m sick and tired of being broke all the time and undervaluing myself.  I have an MBA and think I’m pretty smart so why am I still driving a cubicle for 50k a year?  Ah… but I am at the turning point.  I decided to start reading this year and have already read some inspiring books, the latest of which was “Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking”.  Encouraged me and made me realize that introverts CAN network and actually enjoy the process.  So, I am going to join some networking groups, work on some financial certificates and do other things that will enable me to find opportunities (notice I specifically did not say “job”) to significantly increase my income.

    Mike, I started listening to you on Ancient Faith Radio just before you moved on, then picked up on this blog.  Very much enjoy your blogs and look forward to your podcasts.  Being in the Nashville area I suspect you are probably friends with two of my other favorites… Dan Miller and Dave Ramsey.  I’m going to come to Nashville and have lunch with you guys one day… hey, it could happen!

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      Sean,
      I love this focus! Have you read quitter, by John Acuff? Good motivational book and easy to read.

      • Sean_p_tingley

         Thanks, Barry, I will put Quitter on my reading list!  I think I’ve heard Dan Miller mention that book more than once.

        I love the coffee/barista theme of your blog.  I had a part time gig as a barista a few years ago.  It was actually a fun job. 

        And, yes, FOCUS is my new mantra.

        I feel like Steve Martin in “The Jerk”… “things are going to start happening to me now!”

  • http://cherionethingivelearned.blogspot.com/ Cheri Gregory

    A month ago, I informed my rely team for the Big Sur Marathon that I would not be running, after all. I’d been wrestling with the decision but decided to make it fare enough in advance that they could find a replacement runner (which they did.)

    Another member of my team told me last week, “I wish I’d backed out like you did!” and then later apologized for using the term “backed out,” assuring me that she realized how busy I am writing papers to finish my MA (portfolio presentation on Friday!)

    Being “too busy” was not the issue. How can I be more “busy” than the mother of a toddler who has had multiple medical emergencies, including several surgeries, in the last few months? Or our senior pastor who teaches and serves as campus chaplain?

    As I look at the photos of all the fun my colleagues had yesterday (our school had five relay teams and my fellow English teacher, Jason Mustard, ran the entire marathon in support of a cancer research charity), I have no regrets. I made the best choice available for me when I signed up, and I made the best choice available for me I backed out. 

  • http://www.ElderP.org/ Cathy Pullins

    Hi Michael,  I literally lifted the prayer request, “God, how about putting a little encouragement in my email today”.  And there you were with a message that is ‘spot on’.  I am gathering my resume today.  Your note way encouragement to move forward with gusto.  If you know anyone seeking an ambitious Personal Executive Assistant have them write to Cathywrites@gmail.com.  Thank You!

  • ChristinaHolmes

    so insightful and beautifully done!

  • JustinFosterTEE

    Michael, this is certainly message we need to hear more about. I see so many people pointing diners (sometime deservedly). You make a great point about this putting ourselves in a victim role and that is a dangerous place to be. I teach others that while (as you said) they cannot always control what happens to them, they can control three things: (1) what they think, (2) what they focus on, (3) how they react. These are all choices and at time difficult and courageous ones. I’m reminded of a previous post on leadership starting at home. Also, this victim mentality can become learned helplessness (see work by Dr. Martin Seligmen), nowhere we want to be. Thanks again!

  • http://atrudel.wordpress.com/ Anne Trudel

    Thanks, Mike, for this excellent blog entry. I learned some things about you I didn’t know. I went through the child on drugs experience. I blamed myself for a long time. Thankful for counseling that helped us through that crisis.

    I believe I have learned to own my choices. When we felt stuck at the church we attended and disagreed with the direction it was headed, we chose to leave so we wouldn’t remain and become bitter. That is one of the best decisions we’ve made in recent years. Life-giving and positive changes resulted.

    I have once or twice whined about “getting moved” to marketing from editorial. However, in retrospect, I see that it was a good move and it has helped me learn new skills and challenged me. It’s also made me a better writer.

    Now I am working on embracing the freedom of the almost-empty nest (we’ve had one boomerang) and working myself out of the conflict resolver position. It’s time for our young adults to learn to represent themselves. I’m not beating myself up for getting stuck in the middle…I did it with good intentions and did the best I knew how with the tools I was given.

    Life is a growth process. The spiritual journey is a growth process. We are responsible for the choices we make, and Victor Frankl is an inspiring example…thanks for mentioning him and reminding me of the importance of choosing a positive perspective in even the worst conditions.

    Thanks for your blog…it inspires me and makes me want to be a better person.

    • Jim Martin

      Thanks for your comment Anne.  It was good to hear you process the message of Michael’s post through your own life experience.  Very helpful to the rest of us who are also processing it through our own experience.

  • itsjessicaann

    I too bailed out of a half marathon I was supposed to run this past weekend. I did not train for the extra miles of distance – and I don’t feel guilty one bit about it. It took some time but I now realize that I’m in control of every decision – we’re all Presidents of our own lives. If I really wanted to run it, I would have trained. I have other more pressing priorities and running long distance is no longer the MUST in my life. And it’s ok to admit that. It’s actually refreshing.

  • Z Ryan

    A tremendous article.  In our society today many people never take ownership of their situations, not taking responsibility for the choices that led to the situation.  It seems to be much easier to blame someone else rather than admit I made a less than optimum choice.  Thanks for the article.

    • Jim Martin

      Z Ryan, you are right, it is so much easier to blame someone else rather than taking ownership of our situations.  I wonder what advantage we think we gain by blaming others?

  • http://rise365.com/ Michael Good

    This reminds me of a book I just read, “The Traveler’s Gift” by Andy Andrews. I am now going through and reading the 7 decisions daily like he recommends. 

    The first one is: “The buck stops here!” I am responsible for my success.

    It’s  a tough pill to swallow but, wow, is it empowering. 

    “There is a better way. Change is possible.” So, true!

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Interesting.  You recommend book? 

      • http://www.andytraub.com/ Andy Traub

        Tim, if you’d like to learn more about @AndyAndrews then you need to check out http://www.andyandrews.com/intheloop

      • http://rise365.com/ Michael Good

        Tim, I do. For sure! Actually, it was through Andy Traub that I found out more about Andy Andrews which led me to his books. I’m very thankful I did! (@andytraub, @andyandrews)

  • http://www.brandongilliland.com/ Brandon

    Great stuff!

  • Dkempf

    Your blog post is the philosophy we live by a Southwestern Publishing Group. Spencer Hays tells the story of commenting that I would not choose to wear that prison outfit after passing a group on a chain gang. His associate said, Spencer those men didn’t choose that outfit, the state makes them wear it. Spencers reply was, they chose it when they made the choice to commit the crime.

    If you think about it, we are all where we are in life base on daily small and large choices we make. i.e., when in high school we choose to study or we choose not to study. If we choose not to study and excel where does that leave us when faced with needing to find a job? Only one example but one most can relate to.

    • Jim Martin

      Dkempf, thanks for the good story.  A good example of this.

  • Agatha Nolen

    Michael,
    Another great post! We don’t have to feel guilty about bad choices; we need to learn from them and own them. I had to admit that I chose two husbands instead of God choosing for me, and those were two bad choices. When I was diagnosed with breat cancer, I was overweight. Although I might still have gotten breast cancer, being overweight is a known risk factor. I chose to overeat and not exercise enough. Your post reminds all of us to ponder our decision-making wisely.
    thanks
    Agatha
    http://www.agathanolen.com

  • Nathan A Claycomb

    That was an amazingly transparant and inspring post, Mr. Hyatt.  Thank you once again.

    • Nathan A Claycomb

      *transparent

  • Mary West

    I am overweight, battling cancer, and falling into debt.  Also my first book is in jeopardy because I forgot to register the pictures in it with the Library of Congress and a company stole the pictures and is making money off or it instead of me (its entire  proceeds were going to children’s ministry) I don’t have the means to hire a lawyer to fix it.  I am owning up to things and have started losing weight and paying into a debt cancellation program through my church.   Thanks for posting this blog for me to comment on!

    • http://www.andytraub.com/ Andy Traub

      Dang Mary. THAT is awesome. Way to own it sister. The world is not fair but we can make choices that give us freedom. Sounds like you’re doing that instead of playing the blame game.

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Mary -

      I hope and pray everything turns your way. 

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      Mary,
      Thanks for your willingness to share, and I hope and pray that your efforts are rewarded. Keep up the good work!

    • Jim Martin

      Mary, thanks for sharing this and for owning up to some of the things in your life that you mentioned.  Your note motivates me to look at my own life.

  • http://danisejurado.com/ Danise Jurado

    I am always so encouraged and educated from your blog posts! Thank you for being real and honest… and then using it to teach us!

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Danise - 

      I too enjoyed the vulnerability and openness.  

  • http://www.charlielyons.ca/ Charlie Lyons

    Michael, you are right on here. Just about this time last year was when I came across your blog and your fantastic, ongoing content. It was a direct result of this that I have shored up so many areas of my life. I’ve gone from living my life “by accident” to living life deliberately. In fact, this phrase “Live Deliberately” has become tagline of my blog that I started last year. I am modelling its development after your example here, (if I may: http://www.charlielyons.ca) and I’m using it as my online “home base,” as you say.

    I am indebted to you for your godly, wise insights that have, literally, revolutionized the way I live. Your writing both challenges and ministers to me regularly. God bless!

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Nice tag line Charlie. 

      • http://www.charlielyons.ca/ Charlie Lyons

        Thanks, Tim. Many things in my life are more deliberate after following Michael’s posts for a year or so now. How are you enjoying your role as a Community Leader?

  • Denise

    Michael, I always enjoy reading your posts but this one has to be one of my favorites. Such clarity, power, and vulnerability. Blame/victimhood is always easily accessible — and utterly useless.  It takes courage to choose the more energy-intensive option of owning our choices and changing our lives. Long ago I was in an accident and lingered in victimhood for too depressingly long. If you have a chance, I hope you choose to watch this 3 minute video of my story and what it takes to really change. Much love, Denise

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxrtXR08yto&feature

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Denise -

      Great video.  

  • http://www.justcris.com/ Cris Ferreira

    One thing is to talk, another is to actually live it. The second part of this post showed us that you faced many trials, and you speak from experience. That give your words so much more power.
    When I was reading this post and I got to the list of examples, I was a little disappointed at myself (I answered yes to more than one of those questions). But when I read the list of trials you faced, I felt encouraged.
    Thank you so much for sharing them with us, Michael. I know it’s not easy, but it means a lot to know that someone’s been through similar hardships and they overcame them, specially someone like you.

    • Jim Martin

      Cris, I appreciated Michael’s list of trials.  His willingness to share these is a reminder to me that many of us have gone through really tough times and the issue is how we choose to respond to these.

  • Louise B

    I am very comfortable with owning my own decisions.  My life is my choice and that’s why I keep working with people and myself to make more effective decisions.  it’s all good.  thanks 

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      That is great.  Louise, what kind of work do you do with people? 

  • http://dalemelchin.wordpress.com/ Dale Melchin

    It truly is how you respond to life.  This alone, owning your decisions is the key from getting to where a person is to where they want to be, even if they have been negatively conditioned, or how buried you’ve been from bad choices, one can transform  themselves by grabbing onto this and living it!  I’m not where I want to, but I know that owning my choices and my reactions to what has happened to me has helped me gain traction.  I do my best to live and breathe this principle, but I know I have a lot of work to do.

    Again, thank you so much Michael for all you do!

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Dale - 
      Totally agree.  Never too late to change.  

  • Heather Carey

    Thank you, Michael, for the reminder!  I have chosen over the last several days to own my tongue, and am amazed at how much happier our home has been.  I didn’t realize I had become so critical in response to people criticizing me.  But I choose how to respond, I choose how busy to be, and I choose whether to lash back.  I’m choosing peace and encouragement from my mouth.  I still need to choose to own my body’s health. :)

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Heather that is great.  Go for it on owning the health of your body.  You will not regret. 

  • http://talesofwork.com/ kimanzi constable

    Michael, this is exactly what I write about everyday! Since discovering Dan Miller and being challenged to stop making excuses and take action, I’ve made it my mission to help others to stop being complacent. If I had never taken action, I wouldn’t have been blessed to have my second book being picked up by a publisher!

    Own it and then do something about it: TODAY!

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      Good word, Kimanzi.

  • http://bbcjc.com/ Randy Dignan

    Wow!  Thank you!  Great reminder…  Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Peter, Paul, etc…  All had mountain tops and valleys…  All had crossroads and decisions for change!  Thank you for sharing the not so proud moments of your life…  They make us remember what we really are and Who He really is!  Then He gets the glory!!  God bless!!

  • Graham

    I have been through a living hell for a few years and just
    emerged at the other side.
    My favourite cliché now is “sometimes the
    greatest gifts are wrapped in the worst nightmares.”
    Looking back I
    actually remember the warnings I was given by that small voice inside, but I
    chose to ignore them and went ahead anyway.
    Although I spent years in fear I
    now have absolutely no regrets, and hold no malice towards anyone for all that
    happened. I was asked the other day who I would acknowledge in my book and
    without hesitation I wrote down all those that tried so hard to destroy me. I
    now know that wealth is what remains after all money and assets have gone and
    true happiness can only be achieved when the final gap in our lives is filled
    and that gap can only be filled by FAITH. I own my situation.

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      Graham,
      Wow. Sounds like you have been through quite a journey. I am glad that you have come out on the other side a better person.

  • Brandon Horvath

    Excellent post, yet again! Thanks for putting it out there when some choose not to! 

    Brandon

  • Drcmleejr

    When you look at you, you own the solution. It’s the most powerful position. ;-)

  • RF

    I sent you an email in response to your podcast regarding this same idea. I understand I have chosen to be at my current job and therefore accept what comes with it. My struggle is with my response. When your job becomes much of what you do not desire in regards to leadership, environment, and vision-how and when do you determine what is best for you and your family? How do you to determine whether or not your job is worth salvaging?

  • Franky

    It seem like the beginning of  the year all goes as planned, but half way through things seem to get out of control.  It seems challenging to regain focus that I’m in control.

    • Jim Martin

      Franky, I think a lot of us experience something like what you describe.  I have to periodically regroup during the year.  (Something like a quarterly review)  What has been helpful to you?

  • http://themarriagechecklist.com/ Dr. Ann

    Michael, Thanks once again for sharing so transparently – the good and the bad.  I appreciate this reminder that I am free to choose and I should choose wisely.  It’s especially true in our modern times where there are endless distractions and choices – even the good ones can feel overwhelming!

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  • http://twitter.com/eccle0412 Jackie Anderson

    Being in a season of availability and time while taking a forced break from career and teens in school all day, I am being challenged:1-to steward my resources wisely 2- enjoy rest and mundane 3- accept the busy world that is flying by (and in my paradigm missing so much). 
    Training for a 1st and last marathon I am learning so much. Contentment is learned in circumstances of all types.
    Thank you for being transparent. I can imagine how hard it was not to “race”. 
    Thank you, too, for training me.
    Maybe a future podcast for all us women paid and unpaid?
    My current goal, to support my husband, as a man, husband and father. Appears  Gail did that for you.

  • Rebarron32

    I am owning my situation and my first step of changing it begins today at the SCCORE Conference in GA…..

  • http://www.twitter.com/erikjfisher/ Erik Fisher

    For most of us, when we do something wrong to someone else we feel guilt, regret and remorse. It’s nearly impossible to let that go unless you’re able to apologize or somehow make it right. 
    I’ve struggled with this my whole life, trying not to repeat mistakes, intentionally done or not. One thing that has helped has been to step outside of my head, and look at myself and step back from self-condemnation, and instead view myself as if I was a friend who had made a mistake who had come to me for help. What would I do for them or say to them in this instance, showing love, yet not shying away from the truth of the situation. 

  • Dkriss1

    Thanks for your post, Michael. I enjoy your thoughts.I’m amidst the deepest ‘hole’ of my life and understand the power of choice and change. It is with daily prayer and reflection on posts/info like this, along with decided action that I hope to change life around.

    • Jim Martin

      Dkriss1, I wish you the very best in what sounds like a very difficult chapter of your life.

  • http://candelierious.blogspot.com Lis

    My husband always shares the importance of taking responsibility for my choices.  Good post!

  • Miranda

    I’ve turned out most successful when I decided to take responsibility for my decisions. It puts me in a position where I’m conscious of the  fact that there will be a RESULT depending on the choices I make, or whether or not I actually make a choice. One way or another, there will be CONSEQUENCES. So why don’t I rather make the smart choice.
    Another thing, smart choices may be SIMPLY made, but are not always simple. They usually require a lot of hard work. But then, it is the reason we enjoy the satisfaction that comes with the positive outcome. After all, we are reaping the fruit of our hard labor.
    * If you don’t make decisions for yourself, someone else will (Francine Rivers), and you might not like the results.

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  • http://www.andytraub.com/ Andy Traub

    Thanks again for the mention Mike. Do you know what happens to people when you mention them on your blog? The “Hyatt Effect” http://www.takepermission.com/productivity/hyatt/

    • Jim Martin

      This is a great post, Andy.  Following your link allowed me the opportunity to look at your website and blog.  Very nice!

      • http://www.andytraub.com/ Andy Traub

        Thanks Jim. Just completed my “Connect” page yesterday so hopefully folks will be able to stay connected in the way they’re most comfortable with. http://www.takepermission.com/connect

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I’m at the SCORRE Conference this week, do this is the first chance I’ve had to check in. I’m glad you got some traffic; I just hope it didn’t derail your day too badly. I didn’t consider that effect!

      • http://www.andytraub.com/ Andy Traub

        You don’t derail my day remember? I’m responsible for that choice! Sound familiar? 

  • Amanda

    What an enjoyable and thought-provoking blog psot.  Thank you for your inspirational words, wisdom and encouragement.

  • Rashaan Mateen

    I have to live with the fact that I made a choice to help my mom by merging my finances with hers at age 19 because she can’t afford to pay all the bills on her own. And it is beginning to cause me to miss out on life as a teenager. 

  • http://www.momentsofgracelotr.com/ Anne Marie

    My book won’t be complete until I focus on it instead of getting distracted by all the other pretty flowers that grow along the Road.

  • http://www.itsworthnoting.com Levi Smith

    Well said! Just wanted to encourage folks to pickup the book you referenced, Man’s Search for Meaning. Read it last year and got a lot out of it.

  • http://www.dental-management.net/ DentalAccountant

    This post is really an encouragement to us. I agree that we cannot always choose whatever happens to us but  we can choose how to respond every circumstances that will happen to us, am I right?

  • dltucker

    Michael thank you for your transparency and for being real. Usually the more you learn or get to know people, the more you are let down. This is not the case with you. I had you pegged as the older brother that did everything right. Good grades, got a job, got a pretty wife and had pretty kids and lived happily ever after and then I read this, that you have had your fair share of storms to deal with.

    My son just got diagnosed with type 1 diabetes last November, so that is what we are “owning” these days.

    Thanks for your inspiration.

    Dave