What are the worst decisions you have ever made? Here’s a sample of some of mine.
Lesson 1: It doesn’t actually feel good to be cold as ice
When I was in first grade, I was washing my hands in the bathroom at school. There were a few spectators in the little men’s room at the time, so I crumpled my paper towel into a ball and gave it a no-look shot over my shoulder. I splashed that puppy right into the urinal and walked out, cold as ice. Two points, game over. Not long after, I’m finding myself in the principal’s office getting written up for a Double D: Dangerous and Destructive.
Under the direction of my teacher, I wrote an apology letter to the custodian who had to clean up my mess. He read it, looked at me, and then, without a word, crumpled my note into a ball and dropped it in the trash. Technical foul, Nowak loses on the resulting free-throws.
Lesson 2: Be mindful
One time, I sat down on a port-a-potty without looking in it first. Just once.
Lesson 3: …
Watching the 2006 version of The Hills Have Eyes. I make an effort not to riddle my writing with commands, but when the description of a film reads, “A family falls victim to a group of mutated cannibals in a desert far away from civilization,” don’t watch that film. There is no added value in any part of that equation.
Lesson 4: Hurting others hurts me
Then, there was the time my brother was running down the hallway, and I was hiding in the bathroom doorway, and at just the right moment, I stuck my foot out and tripped him. While he was on the ground, I kicked him in the back and then fled the scene.
Lesson 5: She’s not that into you (and for everyone’s sake, have a more thoughtful exit strategy)
In middle school, I had a crush on a girl (let’s call her Sarah). I was convinced that things were going so well in CCD class (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, duh) that my friend convinced me to walk onto her bus in the lineup after school to ask her out. My heart was beating in my throat, but I had a string of the boys following me down the aisle to where Sarah sat in the back. I was the deepest, and courage is the noblest of all attainments, baby. I skipped over the formalities and said, “Sarah, do you want to go out with me?” She turned to her friend and gave her a look and then to her credit gave me a, “Can I think about it?” It was a long walk off that bus, and it wasn’t until over a decade later that I learned how to ask someone out with a more realistic and mutual idea of what the outcome would be.
Lesson 6: Be brave, not bootless
One night during my freshman year in college, a bat was stuck in our hallway, and after some deliberation, we decided that the best decision was to call security on it. When the security officer showed up, he grabbed a metal dustpan and a box. I stood there thinking, this guy must think we are about as useful as a burlap sack of butterscotch pudding. Why didn’t we just put the poor thing in a box and let it outside? The guard calmly walked up to the bat hanging onto the ceiling, placed the box on the ground, and then–SMACK. The bat dropped to the floor with a light thud, the guard scooped it with the dustpan into the box and told us to have a good night, and I was looking like I just witnessed the Lincoln assassination.
Intentionally pronouncing my name incorrectly for the convenience of not having to explain the “V” sound, not wearing sunscreen on Miami Beach, reading Spark Notes instead of books, and exterminating ants on the front patio to pass the time are all among some of the worst decisions I have ever made.
In life, we make a lot of poor choices. Most of the time, we don’t even mean to. Few people wake up and say, “I’m going to make some bad decisions today,” and if they do, that should concern you. With too many ants still haunting my conscience, I did not call security on that bat intending to see it neutralized with a common housekeeping tool, but, alas, we just don’t always make the right choice (though, we can always learn from the wrong one).
However, I will say that, regardless of the circumstances, even with those lessons learned, these moments stick around.
You will remember when you were unkind. You will remember when you were thoughtless and arrogant and foolish. You will especially remember when you were downright wrong, like when I kicked my brother in the back or all the times I dished out cheap shots in my collegiate soccer days.
Foul play is treachery, and when you stab yourself in the back at a crossroads, you eventually feel it somewhere down the path.
But I also believe that if you make the right decision more often than the wrong one–and by right I mean submitting to humility and following the moral compass or Good Book or Him or Her or It or You–then your days will be filled with more of the good than the bad, and you, in turn, will be useful and loved. Perhaps more importantly, if you are willing to be vulnerable, to confess your sins, your weaknesses and failures, exposing the gaps in your armor, or maybe even shedding it–you will be more useful and loved.
I hope that when you take your rest tonight, you can think back on your day or week and remember the good you did. I hope you can remember when you were brave, when you were honest, when you were kind, and that your net contribution was a positive one. If you can’t, consider keeping a journal next to your bed, write down your goals before you go to sleep, and wake up with some good to do.
At the same time, if you made mistakes, I’m sorry if they still itch the back of your neck, but I don’t wish those decisions away. If you retrace your steps, you’ll find a better version of yourself at those crossroads, and the path has a strange way of looking oh so familiar.