Life is a series of choices, and last year as I contemplated leaving and ultimately left the military felt like a lifetime in and of itself. It wasn’t that it felt like a significant period of time, but the number of choices we needed to make made the year seem much longer than it actually was. As I look back on the decisions we made as a family, each was surprisingly easy. It wasn’t because the alternatives being considered were obvious to all, but rather because we had established a clear set of values and priorities on which to evaluate alternatives. After recently assessing the decisions we made last year one by one, the result can be summed up in one word…validated. In each instance, we chose the right choice for us, based on values and priorities.

As crazy as it might sound, this year I am not as interested in making decisions as I am in creating dilemmas. I am not talking about ethical or moral dilemmas, but rather situations where the alternatives being considered are equally appealing. And though by definition, no dilemma is simple, there is no real wrong answer. Given the number of decisions made last year, there won’t be many to make this year. But there will be one decision that will stand well above all others in its significance: Where will our son go to college? For all of the right reasons, my objective is to do my part to help ensure that is not only a difficult decision but a true dilemma for my son.

Now let’s be honest, he’s been the one who has been doing all of the work necessary to unknowingly set the stage for a true dilemma. He’s the one who has been working so hard to achieve excellent grades. He’s the one who has been training for hours on end to become the high achiever in the swimming pool. He’s the one who has given some amazing institutions reason to want him to choose their family over others. I say that to acknowledge that my role is as coach, enabler, and advocate. He is the doer here.

When I was considering college myself, I had two amazing opportunities among a handful of alternatives. The two amazing opportunities, the US Air Force Academy and the US Naval Academy, didn’t present me with a true dilemma because the choice was simple. It was the Top Gun era and just about anyone who had the opportunity to choose between these two military academies chose the Navy Blue and Gold. Those who didn’t have a choice “aimed high” and donned a different shade of blue. I say that tongue in cheek as I think very highly of my Air Force brethren. And quite honestly, if I was to make that choice today I would likely make a different choice, but that is a topic for another time.

My son won’t be faced with the same choice I had, but given that he already has invitations for official visits to some selective academic institutions and some equally strong athletic programs, I have every reason to believe that his decision will be more difficult. In fact, done properly, there will be sleepless nights of contemplation thinking deeply about which incredible opportunity is right for him. A true dilemma.

Many people don’t realize they have choices and their life is, in fact, a result of the decisions they have (or have not) made. Many others don’t like to make decisions when presented with options and ride the momentum that results from blindly maintaining course and speed. I am grateful for the many decisions I have had the opportunity to make, and I continue to be blessed with some amazing options to consider. Being committed to established values and clear priorities greatly simplify the decision-making process, but even they can’t prevent a good dilemma. And, oh, how I hope my son is faced with one! A situation where there is no wrong decision and each option he considers leads toward a life of growth, fulfillment, and enjoyment. The decision I made at his age may not have been a dilemma, but it most certainly led me toward a life even better than I imagined.

  • Do you establish criteria before considering options?
  • What was the most recent decision you made?
  • When is the next time you might create a dilemma by design?