We always have a choice about the content and character of our inner lives.
55 – 135 A.D.

I enjoy reading the comic strips in the newspaper. Frequently, they offer a bit of humor — a pleasant diversion in our troubling world. And sometimes they offer great insight into life and how to live it. (I consider either one a win.)

A few years ago, a Hagar the Horrible strip contained a good lesson in life. In case you aren’t familiar with the strip, Hagar is a Viking whose livelihood involves raiding and plundering richer civilizations. On this particular day, he and his men are going to fight Attila the Hun. Hagar has his men gathered around him and he’s giving them a pep talk to prepare them for battle.

Hagar tells them that they have only two choices. Going to meet Attila the Hun will be their greatest challenge, but if they win, they will have everlasting honor and glory. Going in the other direction — in other words, retreating — can only lead to shame and regret.

Before he can finish his speech, the men are rushing past him — away from the battle.

There are a couple of lessons here. One is that we must be careful when we give people choices. Never offer an option you’re not willing to accept. In the comic strip, Hagar gave his men two choices, but he clearly didn’t expect or want them to retreat. If you’re a parent, mentor, or leader, it’s important to give those you guide the opportunity to make decisions. But you must be willing to accept whatever outcome they select. Once you present the choices, you’ve relinquished control over what will happen.

There is another, more important lesson as well. Given a choice, most people will choose the easiest path. We would rather have the comfort and safety of an easy life than take the risks necessary to achieve important goals. It’s not that we don’t want to succeed; we’re afraid to take the more challenging path. We’re scared of failing, and at the same time, we’re scared of succeeding. Failing damages our ego. Success, on the other hand, takes us into new areas. It forces us to expand our lives beyond the familiar. That unknown territory is laden with fear. So we’re frightened at the thought of either outcome.

How do you effectively deal with fear? First, understand that we tend to exaggerate the consequences of failure, picturing an outcome much worse than what could actually happen. We may also think that failing at any given endeavor makes us failures. It doesn’t. Separate the failure of a project from personal failure, and understand that growth comes from lessons learned. The most successful people are the ones that fail the most and learn from their mistakes.

The quality of your life will depend on the quality of the choices you make in life. Learn to study and understand the consequences of the choices presented to you. Remember, the easiest path does not lead to growth. The better and more challenging our choices, the more we learn and grow, and the more successful we will be.

It is unreasonable to think we can earn rewards without being willing to pay their true price.

Copyright © 2017 John Chancellor

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