Eric was in his senior year of college, and he wasn’t sure what to do next. He felt pulled in different directions. His college sweetheart took a job in her hometown and part of him wanted to be near her. His father was approaching retirement and dreamed of handing the family business off to his son. Eric loved kids, and the idea of serving for a couple years with an inner-city teaching program really attracted him. And the company he had interned with the summer before had offered him a full-time position once he graduated.
I had served as Eric’s campus minister when he was in high school, so he called me up just to talk things through. I remembered Eric well and had always thought highly of him. He had one of those magnetic personalities that made people just want to be around him.
I really wanted to help Eric. He was a great kid, and I knew he could be successful no matter what he did. But ultimately, I couldn’t make a decision for him, so I tried to use the opportunity to share with him some of the best advice I had ever been given about making decisions. This advice has helped me when faced with tough choices. It helped Eric. And I hope it will help you:
Just do the next right thing.
In every situation, at every juncture, at all crossroads, simply choose the next right thing! When you find yourself struggling to know what to do, just remind yourself of these words over and over again.
It doesn’t matter what the choice is, large or small. If the choice at this moment is between exercising or vegetating in front of the television, just do the next right thing. If the choice is between working well and working hard or being lazy and procrastinating, just do the next right thing. If the choice is between cheating on your wife or being faithful to her, just do the next right thing.
You might look at these examples and think they are too easy. You might say, “Those examples are just the choice between right and wrong. What about when I have to choose between helping my child with his homework or helping my spouse with the dishes? Or how do I decide between going after a promotion that will give me enough money to send my kids to college or taking a job that I love but will limit their choices when it comes to colleges?” The questions life throws at us can sometimes involve many shades of gray. Certainly Eric’s choices weren’t between good ones and bad ones. He struggled to know what the right thing to do was when faced with many good options.
The thing Eric needed to remember—and we have to remember, too!—is that we only have to make one decision at a time. The best way to prepare for the future is to make the right decision now. Will you make the wrong choice sometimes? Sure. We all do. But most of the time, if we take a gut check—pause to listen to the quiet voice within us—we are going to get it right. More than 99 percent of the time, you will know what the next right thing for you to do is if you quiet yourself for a moment and go to that place deep within you. The other 1 percent of the time, you may have to turn to a trusted friend to help you figure out the right thing. But if you are committed to doing the next right thing, you will find it.
If the choice at this moment is between exercising or vegetating in front of the television, just do the next right thing.
For Eric, doing the next right thing meant spending some time in the classroom of silence. It meant spending a few days with his dad at the office to get a better sense of what life could be like if he took over the family business. It meant sitting down with his girlfriend and having an intentional conversation about their relationship and where things were going. It meant taking the time to reflect on the positives and negatives of his internship experience. It meant speaking with people who had gone through teaching programs like the ones he was interested in to understand what that life was really like.
I wanted Eric to know that by doing the next right thing, we live on into the answers to the questions we have about life. Who knows what you are to do a month from now, or a year from now, or ten years from now? But if at every moment you occupy yourself with doing the next right thing—the thing that will help you become a-better-version-of-yourself right now—then when the time comes, you will find yourself dealing with the decisions that perplex you today in a calm and knowing way.
Whether you are struggling to overcome a pattern of defeat, yearning for inner peace, trying to find lasting happiness, wishing to succeed in your career, desperately trying to overcome procrastination, or battling with an addiction, this lesson holds the key for you. Just do the next right thing. In each moment, just keep doing the next right thing.