Books,  Journaling

My Three Worst and Best Decisions

I just finished reading Jay Shetty‘s inspiring book Think Like a Monk, about the practical lessons he learned during the three years he lived as a monk at an ashram in India. 

 

The book Think Like a Monk, a glass of iced tea, a succulent plant, a journal and a pen

 

The book is deeply thought-provoking and filled with questions and exercises. I love when an author engages us and helps us apply teachings to own situations, don’t you? 

The Question I Didn’t Want to Answer

 

A car with a license plate that reads "MY BADDD" accompanied by the text: MISTAKES, We all make them.

 

In Chapter 1, Identity, Shetty made a suggestion that struck a nerve. 

“Reflect on the three best and three worst choices you’ve made.” 

I noticed I felt resistant about completing the exercise. For one thing, how could I possibly whittle down a lifetime of decisions (especially all the bad ones!) to just three?

But later I returned to the question. Although I’m not one to spend a lot of time looking back, I eventually sat with my thoughts and a blank journal page. 

 

Poster with photo of sinking boat in the ocean and the text: "Mistakes: It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others."

 

Three Misguided Choices

The first bad decision that came to mind was my choice to stop college after two years. I was tired of being a broke college student, so I got a job and an apartment in Boulder. I always planned to go back (and maybe someday I still will), but I soon had a car loan and credit cards and just never got back on track. 

The second was a poor relationship choice I made that ultimately caused pain on all sides. I knew it wasn’t right within the first month, yet stayed in it off and on for four years. I didn’t trust my instincts or stay true to my values, and I still have regrets. 

The third decision was to get married too quickly when I was in my late 30s. We started dating in January and married in June of the same year. We were older and thought “why wait?” but instead of having fun dating and getting to know each other, we were soon dealing with financial challenges, parenting disagreements and a flooded basement. 

Three Great Decisions

In 1997 I attended a writing retreat with the great Madeleine L’Engle. It was a pricey weekend put on by Victoria magazine that I really couldn’t afford at the time, but I’m so glad I made the investment. Being with my favorite author and nineteen other writers at Glen Eyrie Castle in Colorado Springs was incredibly special, and the fundamentals I learned from Madeleine have informed my writing ever since. 

 

Author Madeleine L'Engle seated with author Eliza Cross
Learning from the best with author Madeleine L’Engle

 

Another super decision: In 2002, I traveled with my late husband to Guatemala and we adopted a baby boy. My son has faced challenges including the very sad loss of his dad, but I’m so proud of him and grateful for all the experiences we’ve shared. 

In 2003, I launched my own business. Providing marketing services for my clients, writing cookbooks and blogging is the most fun and rewarding work. Having flexibility to be there for my family has been a wonderful side benefit. 

The Values Buried Within Our Choices

Okay, here’s the really good part of this exercise.

Shetty writes, “Take a look at your answers… buried in them are your values.”

I’d never examined these major decisions through that lens, but it was illuminating to identify the values that inspired my choices. 

Here are my answers: 

What Was Behind the Not-So-Hot Decisions

When I quit college, my values at the time were independence and self-sufficiency. (Also: tired of ramen.)

When I made that unhealthy relationship choice, the values I hoped for were love and commitment.

When I opted for a speedy marriage, the underlying values were love and stability.

Unpacking the Good Decisions

Attending the writing retreat was a decision based on valuing creativity, expression and learning. 

Adoption was inspired by values of love, motherhood and family.

Launching a business aligned with my values of service and flexibility so I could be there for my kids.

Henry Ford said, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”

After doing this exercise, I’ve realized how helpful it is to evaluate decisions by first considering how (and if) they reflect my truest values.  

How About You?

Have you ever thought about three of your worst and best decisions?

What were the values that inspired your choices at the time?

What can you learn about yourself by examining the principles that informed your decisions? 

If you feel like sharing, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comments section. 

Best always,

Signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Here’s my favorite ramen recipe

Eliza Cross is the author of 15 books, including recent titles like Bacon Beans and Beer and Small Bites. She blogs at ElizaCross.com and is the founder of the BENSA Bacon Lovers Society. Her articles have appeared in publications like Sunset, Parents and Writers' Digest. Eliza lives near Denver with her family.

8 Comments

  • Kathleen

    As always you make me laugh (also: tired of ramen) and cry at your sweet, vulnerable heart. I’m so glad you made the decisions you made because without them, we might not have met!! Hello preschool!!

    • Eliza Cross

      Thank you, dear Kathleen, for weighing in on the wonderful providence that brought us together to meet at our boys’ preschool. What a blessing you and your family have been to us! I treasure your friendship so much, for so many reasons. The next ramen lunch is on me! xxoo

  • Rosemary Carstens

    Eliza, I loved this post. I have been spending a lot of time over the past year plus thinking about the curve of my life, decisions made and their consequences, where I’ve gone astray and where I’ve managed to cling to my true north. Interestingly even the poor decisions had some redeeming qualities–roads taken and roads not taken have each had theirs ups and downs. About college–I became a mother at 17, but always longed to attend college. It took me 30 years but finally completed a BA and went on to grad school. You’ve got plenty of time–it’s truly never too late if it remains a goal. One thing I also realized is that it’s perfectly OK to let go of a goal that at one time seemed really important and move on to others. I know you’ll be successful no matter which roads you choose! xoxo

    • Eliza Cross

      Dear Rosemary, the more fun things I learn about you the more I’m in awe of your energy and colorful life! I’m sooo impressed that you returned to college later in life to get your degree. (Your comment made me think about what I’d study if I returned, and I think I’d take chocolate or pastry classes. Seriously!) Thanks for sharing your thoughts about life’s twists and turns, too. You’re a very thoughtful and resilient person, and I’m so glad you stopped by. xxoo

  • JerMaster Jer

    I am about to make a decision, which may fall into either category of a good or a bad decision, which is to consider performing this exercise for myself. I suspect it will fall in the category of goodness. However, I am glad I do not need to be brave about sharing my ruminations like you so bravely did. – Thank you for this inspiration – JerMaster Jer

    • Eliza Cross

      Jerrry, thanks so much and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I still remember the first time Laura brought me to your house in HR (maybe 28 years ago?). Now THAT was a great decision, followed by so many fun times!

  • Amy Ostwald

    Thanks for being vulnerable and modeling how this exercise can work, Eliza. I find that I am much more motivated to try something like this when I can see an example of how someone else worked through it. I appreciate having the nudge to do this reflection!

    • Eliza Cross

      Amy, thank you, my thoughtful friend. I’m grateful for the GREAT decision my parents made to move to Juniper Avenue in 1969. Meeting you in 6th grade was a life changer! I treasure all of our good times and the chapters in our lives we have shared together. I love it when you share your writing, too. xxoo

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