Everyone comes into the world with a hand of cards that was not of their own choosing—it’s the hand they were dealt.
For example, you have innate intelligence that was hardwired upon your entrance, and the disposition logged into your genes took on a life of its own. You didn’t choose the family you were born into, the circumstances of your childhood were not designed by you, and the connections in your formative years were determined by someone else.
“Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but of playing a poor hand well.” –Robert Louis Stevenson
We use the gambler’s metaphor of being dealt bad or a good hand, yet we forget that wild cards also exist in that deck. And we all possess one.
Just as in a game of poker, a wild card can make all the difference in the world. Using it well is the key to success, as it consists of the choices we make and influences all of the other cards. Life has continuous forks in the road, and it’s important to make the right choices. Your future will thank you.
Here are five things to remember as you play your wild card:
1. Always start with the end in mind.
We make decisions, and those decisions turn around and make us. Go out in time and determine the outcome you desire. Too many people approach life like it’s a lottery ticket. If you hang around long enough, your number will come up. At last, everything you’ve ever wanted will be yours! But that never happens—just ask the people who bought a ticket. There is a 5,000,000 to 1 chance of being a winner, which just equals zero.
2. Make sure your choices are adding up.
Knowing your desired “end” points to what matters now. If it doesn’t matter tomorrow, then it doesn’t matter today. Focus your energy on the now. Look at the path that will get you to the life you want: Are your current choices moving you closer to where you want to go? What do you need to stop doing, where do you need to adjust, and what should you continue to do? Do the math.
3. Never fail to choose yourself.
It’s exhausting to pretend to be someone you aren’t. Wearing masks wears you out; faking becomes fatiguing. Do it long enough, and you can forget who you really are. Choose your voice over someone else’s and get past the self-imposed choices of others. It’s freeing and refreshing, but more importantly, it fuels your ability to choose wisely.
4. Simplify your choices.
We live in an options-rich environment, and we desire more choices because information is addictive. But research shows that people who have too many choices have a harder time choosing. If we don’t simplify our choices, our thought process becomes paralyzed. Fewer choices leads to better results.
As humans, when we become confident in our decisions, we stop seeking additional information and move forward. Key choices like whom we will serve, what principles we will live by, what relationships we will value, and what we will believe about ourselves are the key categories that determine positive decisions.
5. It’s never too late to make good choices.
Where you are in life is temporary. Where you end up in life is permanent. How you get from point A to point B is entirely up to you. You can’t make positive progress with a negative attitude, and no one can choose for you unless you let them. The biggest step to changing the world around you is to change the world within you. Don’t let the past immobilize you. Learn from bad choices, stupid choices and lazy choices—they deepen you, but they don’t define you, and they fuel your present choices, which impact the rest of your life.
The cards you hold can change dramatically when you insert the wild card: your choices. What seems intimidating becomes manageable, and you gain more courage and confidence by acting. Don’t get stuck accepting your life. Make sure you are leading it.
What is your wild card? Looking back one year from now, what is the choice you need to make today?
Related: 6 Ways to Make Better Decisions
This post originally appeared on LeadershipTraQ.com.
Mick Ukleja, Ph.D., is the founder and president of LeadershipTraQ. He empowers leaders to optimize their talent and equips them to excel in their professional and personal life. Mick is an author, speaker and generational strategist. He writes and speaks on engaging millennials at work. He is the co-author of Managing the Millennials: Discover the Core Competencies for Managing Today’s Workforce, 2nd Edition, which is used in corporate training and business schools. He co-founded the Ukleja Center for Ethical Leadership at California State University, Long Beach, which promotes ethics across the curriculum. Mick is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at Concordia University. His book Who Are You? What Do You Want? has been praised by legendary coach John Wooden: “I have always taught that success can be achieved by each one of us. These principles provide an excellent life-planning guide for bringing out your best.” Mick has been featured on Fox News, CNN, Fox Business Network, NBC and in numerous publications. Keep up with Mick at Leadershiptraq.com.