Have you ever had that dilemma of what to choose when you get passed that Christmas box of chocolates (you know, the fancy ones you only ever buy when the holidays come around), but the little slip of paper that tells you what lies inside has gone missing? Sure you have. We’ve all been there.
And you know what? Every time I get that ‘chocolate box lucky dip’ moment, I’m reminded of that wonderful line in the movie Forrest Gump about how “life is like a box of chocolates”.
And I’m reminded of that clip because it is. Life, I mean. It’s exactly like a box of chocolates – full of sensory delight and sensory horror. And, all too often, those delights and horrors come right out of the blue because, somewhere along the line, you misplaced that slip of paper that tells you what’s what.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking: “But, Andy, I didn’t misplace anything – life doesn’t come with a handy slip of paper! If only it did!”. And you’re right, it doesn’t come with a slip of paper to point the way towards the good choices – the sensory delights, if you like and to lead you away from the bad choices – those sensory horrors, so-to-speak. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t create one for yourself.
And, before you say anything, I’m going to stop you right there – before you make that objection you are thinking about making. I mean the one that says that “if I don’t know what’s in the ‘box’ that is ‘life’, and if there never was any handy slip of paper to point me in the direction of the choices and outcomes I’ll like, how in the heck am I supposed to create that slip of paper for myself?”. And I’m going to stop you because it can be done. And much more easily than you may think.
You see, you have experience.
Take the Christmas box of chocolates. Sure, you may not know exactly what’s inside each wrapper, but you have eaten chocolates before (don’t deny it), and you know that hard chocolates tend to have chewy centres, like toffee, or they may even just be a block of chocolate. You know that orange coloured wrappers often hold an orange flavoured chocolate, while pink wrappers can often contain chocolates with cherry, or raspberry, or, more likely, strawberry centres. You also know that if you give it a little squeeze and it starts to crack, it has a soft centre, but if it doesn’t, it most likely has a hard centre. All tiny little clues that, in the absence of an actual menu, give you a glimpse of what might be on offer.
And so it is with the moments and opportunities that present themselves in life: you have past experiences to draw on that will help you to build up a picture of how present and future experiences may ‘taste’, and if you will like them. You know what ‘wrapping’ those opportunities and moments came in – the people who were involved, the circumstances around them, the places they occurred and so on. You know which ones led to good places, and which took you to bad places. Which provided sensory delight, and which provided sensory horror. Pay attention to how each opportunity and moment presented itself – the ‘wrapping’ it came in, and how it ‘tasted’, and you have the foundations of your menu.
Sure, it’s not foolproof; and, sure, based on those foundations you may seize a moment or opportunity that turns out to be one you should have left in the ‘box’. But with each moment, and each opportunity, you get to refine that picture, making you more informed, more resilient, and better placed to decide well next time around.
Just like learning which chocolates you like, and which you don’t, you have to learn which opportunities and moments led to experiences and outcomes you liked, and which didn’t. And, in the same way as, when you chance your arm and picked it from that lucky-dip chocolate box you wouldn’t pick a chocolate that you know will make you wretch, you should pass on those opportunities and moments that you know won’t take you where you want to go. You have to learn from, and build on, each and every moment, opportunity and experience.
So, no, life doesn’t come with a manual or a menu to guide you through the choices you have to make as you pursue your unfolding adventure. But, it does offer you clues. Your job is to notice those clues, learn what they tell you, and use them to guide each choice that follows. And with each new choice, more clues will be unlocked. And as you build up your bank of clues, so each choice becomes more informed, and each outcome becomes less the result of chance and more the product of conscious intent.
So, next time you find yourself faced with a moment or opportunity, stop. Take a breath. Remember that going with your gut is not always the best option. And then ask yourself this: what do my past experiences tell me about the choice I now have to make? You won’t always find an answer, and sometimes you may still have to make a leap of faith; but most times, you’ll get the steer you need and you will be able to step forward with confidence that the outcome you hope for will be the outcome you get.