Weigh your options

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- It doesn't seem that long ago -- my junior year of high school -- trying to determine what to do with my life. Which path should I take? College or no-college? Military? Move away or remain in my home town? After talking with classmates I decided college was a must, but didn't know how to pay for it. Then a teacher of mine, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, convinced me to join our home-town Army National Guard unit to fund college. He recommended I attend a local university, completely paid for by military programs, and if it wasn't what I wanted, I could always drop out and find a job in the local community or go active duty Army.

I took his advice, but was uncertain of what academic degree path to follow. A business degree with emphasis on marketing looked good and seemed within my abilities. So I enrolled and stuck with it for four years, and upon graduation had no idea what career path to follow. I just wanted out of the military, never to return and to make lots of money. Most of my friends moved to St. Louis post-graduation and took jobs completely unrelated to the college degree they'd just earned.

I immediately followed suite, completed my National Guard commitment, moved to St. Louis and took a job paying the most money of any I was offered. After about two months I completely hated it, but loved the pay. Four years later, 90 pounds heavier and a two-pack a day smoker I'd had enough. I felt terrible and wanted out. Again, quick decision making came into play, leaving full-time employment and getting a master's degree was the guaranteed road to success. After several years as a full-time student working part-time, I graduated and was ready to return to the work force.

So I had a master's degree in business, but once again no idea what I wanted other than not returning to the job I hated. After several months searching, interviewing, not liking my options and running out of money, it seemed returning to the same line of work I hated was the best option...until I ran across a high school classmate one 4th of July weekend. After explaining my situation he recommended joining the Air Force. I told him no way, going back to the military was not an option. Another friend, an old National Guard buddy overhearing the conversation asked me why not? Why so quick to judge? Had I listed the pros and cons and weighed my options? My response: What are you talking about? You were in the Guard with me and you got out. He laughed, said yes, he had weighed his options and that I was making uneducated decisions, then explained a time-tested method to ensure important choices are well thought out and not based on hope.

I listened and then took his advice; the next week I sat down, listed my personal values, what I liked and disliked in life and where I wanted to be in 40 years. I then wrote down my likes and dislikes about the private sector (likes were approximately 30, dislikes about five). I did the same for the military which ironically was near opposite (five likes to about 30 dislikes).

I weighed and prioritized likes and dislikes on each list based on my values and where I wanted to go in life. Surprisingly the military outweighed the private sector option significantly. I was stunned that five items weighed so heavily. The rest is history, I took both friends' advice and 14 years later still love the "way I chose" and thoughts to "weigh each value." I'm not saying that every day is perfect (except for being in Colorado), but I wake up each morning excited to hit the ground running; not the 300-pound smoker dreading the day and where it might lead.

So, teach friends, family, co-workers and subordinates to relax, step back, think about life's choices, prioritize their pros and cons and personal values, and weigh each prior to making important decisions. You're never too young to start and might be surprised that the choice you never thought you'd make actually leads down the greatest path ever. I can't guarantee every decision will be perfect; but this advice will definitely help with navigating life's many complex and twisting roads.