Commander commentary: Make right choices now to write your best future

Col. Patrick Miller is the 88th Air Base Wing and installation commander at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Col. Patrick Miller is the 88th Air Base Wing and installation commander at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo)

New York Times best-selling author Dan Brown released “Inferno” in May 2013. For those unfamiliar with Brown’s novels, he typically weaves fact with fiction to create a fast-paced, realistic tale while covering controversial topics. These are a guilty pleasure of mine. In “Inferno” I ran across a quote I often use during mentoring sessions.

I am a firm believer that life is about opportunities and choices. Each day you are presented with numerous opportunities. The choices you make lead you to your next opportunity, kind of like the old adventure books that present you with a choice (e.g., turn left or turn right). Once you make your choice, you flip forward or backward in the book to the page associated with your choice and continue reading until the next opportunity presents itself.

You continue making choices until you reach a conclusion. If you did not like the ending, you simply went back to a previous decision point and made a different choice. Unfortunately, life is not that simple which brings me to the Dan Brown quote.

In “Inferno,” Brown writes, “[T]he decisions of our past are the architects of our present.”

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In other words, where you are today is a function of where you have been (opportunities) and the decisions you made (choices). We have all taken different paths to get to where we are today. My brother and I are a prime example of how different choices yield very different results. We are from a small coal mining and farming community. We grew up in the same hometown with the same parents and went to the same schools.

Our dad sacrificed time with us to put food on the table. Our mom was a high school dropout who later earned her GED and a college degree. Our story was the norm for many in our community.

My brother and I had the exact same opportunities growing up; however, we made very different choices. I immersed myself in school, volunteer activities and Boy Scouts. My brother hung out downtown. As we continued to spiral down our separate paths, I found myself in college and then the Air Force. My brother found himself in prison for the better part of 17 years.

What was the difference? We had the same upbringing, the same opportunities. We were raised on the same values by the same parents. The difference: our choices.

My brother made bad choices, which led to less than desirable opportunities. Rather than course correct early in life, he continued to make bad choices. Doors closed, and he was held accountable for his actions.

As Brown stated, the decisions of my brother’s past were scripting his present. He no longer had great opportunities, or even good opportunities, in front of him. My path was very different. I am not saying I made the right choice every time, but when I did make a bad choice, I corrected the issue immediately, learned and moved on to the next opportunity.

I am happy to say that my brother is starting to make smart choices. He has been clean for several years and has a solid job in construction. He is finally capitalizing on his opportunities although his road ahead is not easy.

When presented with your next opportunity, what are you going to do? The choice you make is a function of your character and is grounded in your experience. Leaders will present you plenty of opportunities as well as mentor and develop you along the way. However, only you can decide what choice you will make.

As you go forward, I challenge you to view things through a slightly modified version of Brown’s quote. Rather than “[T]he decisions of our past are the architects of our present,” I want you to approach each opportunity with the mindset that the decisions of the present are the architect of your future. Make the right choice and start writing your future.