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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Is There Such a Thing as Too Many Options?

How many times have we heard the expression “Keep your options open”? Or similarly, “Don’t burn any bridges”? At times in our lives, having too many options prevents us from moving forward in a chosen area. And burning a bridge or two can ensure we keep our focus on the present moment, rather than looking longingly at a past that no longer serves us.

There are occasions when the only way to guarantee success is when retreat is no longer an option. In the third century B.C. a Chinese general led his troops across the Yangtze River into enemy territory. Once there he burned their ships as a way to force them to move forward, eliminating the option of retreat. In so doing he guaranteed the success of the mission.

On an emotional level, the thought of having options can be comforting. It can also be a way of inhibiting our growth and fulfillment. When John (not his real name) started a new business venture, he did so while still employed full-time (a sensible choice at the time, since he needed his salary and benefits for his growing family). After a few years, though, his business stagnated. It never took off nor developed to the point where he could leave his job and devote himself to his business full-time. In our coaching sessions, it became apparent to John that he would have to devote himself to the growth of his business if he wanted it to reach the level that he knew it could. John realized that the time he spent at his full-time job was limiting his ability to bring his new business to the next level of success.

After establishing a series of small goals that would enable him to take the step of leaving his full-time job, John made great strides in the development of his company. He had been so busy using his job as a crutch of sorts (which gave him security) that he completely lost sight of how it was draining his ability to devote the necessary time and energy to his business. Once he retired from his job, he attained the success he’d dreamt of for so long.

It is important to examine the areas in our own lives that are being stilted and held back by our desire to “keep our options open.” After all, sometimes in life we need to identify an important mission and devote much of ourselves to its achievement. It’s difficult to open our arms to embrace the lives we want when we’ve already got our hands full sustaining the lives we have.

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Saturday, March 1, 2008


There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. ~ Anais Nin

It happens to the best of us. One minute we’re cruising along the highway of life, listening to some tunes and enjoying the ride, comfortable in the knowledge that we know exactly where we’re heading. When suddenly, there’s a detour up ahead we hadn’t anticipated. We feel a formless anxiety build as we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory without a GPS device. There are no signposts up ahead, no recognizable landmarks. As we struggle to figure out which way to turn, we feel as if we have been cast adrift in a sea of uncertainty.

This is what it can feel like when a sudden change hijacks our lives. Everything we know, all that we are accustomed to, seems different. Sometimes, in the case of a career or a relationship this change can be overwhelming. While change can be uncomfortable, it is inevitable. From the moment we’re born life is a series of changes. Often, from the limited viewpoint we have prior to the change, this can seem daunting and undesirable, but when we look at the effects of change in retrospect, the benefits become clear.

If you had the ability, as a baby in utero, to know that the experience of childbirth is like, you might never choose to be born. Think about it. You’re in a warm sac, floating in a liquid cushion, almost weightless. Your nourishment is provided through the umbilical cord, as is all the oxygen you need to survive. You are never hungry and you don’t even have to breathe for yourself. You are never cold and it is always dark and peaceful. The only sounds filtering through are muffled by the womb environment.

Contrast that with what we know of the birth experience and it must all be pretty overwhelming. Suddenly there’s this extraordinary pressure, pushing you downward. The liquid cushion you’ve been floating in for months bursts, and you feel squeezed and constricted. There is discomfort and confusion; what is happening?

Finally after hours and hours of this, sometimes over a day of the birthing process, you emerge. Born into a cold, stark delivery room, the bright lights hurt your eyes and the cold air makes you shiver. People are pulling at you, suctioning your mouth and rubbing you down briskly. They put ointment in your eyes and prick you with a sharp needle for the blood test. Now it’s a different world. Your food isn’t provided automatically, you need to cry to let people know when you’re hungry or thirsty or when you need changing. If you feel pain and discomfort you alert others by crying and hope that they’ll be able to figure out what’s wrong.

With the limited understanding you possessed in the womb, no one would blame you if you chose not to be born, but then think of what you’d be missing. Change is often hard and scary but can also be the start of a wonderful, new adventure, the beginning of a life that surpasses all your dreams. Go for it!

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