Reality Check: Running for the Roses

It’s extraordinary when a little guy—an outsider—unexpectedly wins a big event. This year’s Kentucky Derby was notable for exactly that: a huge 80-1 win by Rich Strike, a horse that just the day before didn’t look like he was going to get to run the race at all.
The race didn’t spark much interest for me until I happened to see a background story. Turns out that tragedy had struck the trainer, Eric Reed, a few years back. He’d lost a number of horses in a barn fire. Animal lovers know that losing an animal in the best of circumstances is difficult enough. That kind of loss must have been devastating.
We sometimes interpret events as having broader meanings— “they’re telling us something.”
Reed is quoted as having briefly considered that the barn fire might be a sign that perhaps he should get out of this line of work.
Given this unexpected win at the Derby, Reed is likely certain that his decision to stay in the horse training business was the right one. What about the rest of us? How do we know when we make the right decision?
Many situations call for judgement. Health, work, school, location, relationships—they all require decisions. What to do? There’s no one right answer. If there were, it wouldn’t be a real decision.
We can often interpret events from opposite perspectives. For example, Reed could have chosen to interpret the fire as a message to get out of the horse training business. Instead, he apparently used the event as a chance to start again.
Reed made the choice to persist, but is persistence always the answer? No. For example, when you hit a rough spot in a fundamentally good career, then persist. But if you spend every day in hopeless misery, perhaps continuing to do the same thing (aka “persistence”) isn’t the most effective choice.
This can apply to relationships as well. Does one persist in a difficult relationship, hoping that it will improve? Or does one cut the losses, acknowledging that it will never be as hoped for? No one answer works for all.
So how do you choose the “right” perspective to make the most effective decision? Is it the one that will lead to the least pain right now? The best long-term result? How to choose?
My suggestion is to focus more on direction than on a specific outcome. Does one perspective point toward a positive, purpose-filled direction? Does another perspective point toward a discouraged, skeptical direction?
It’s not for me to say which direction is appropriate for your situation. Positive and purpose-filled is great, but scepticism and discouragement can have purpose too—they can both motivate us to step back and take a closer look.
We only know the result of the decision Reed did make. We’ll never know what would have happened if he’d chosen differently. So it is with our decisions. We know what happens as a result of what we did; we don’t know the “what-if” results of what we didn’t do.
We won’t all win the Kentucky Derby, no matter how positive we are. However, we can at least consciously choose the direction that our decisions will lead us toward.

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