Each of us is faced with thousands of choices every day that define our thoughts, our behavior, and who we are to the world. This fall’s Thrive Conference explores the idea that the choices we make hold power and provide opportunities that influence ourselves, others, and how we see God. Each Tuesday from now until October, we’ll feature one story of someone whose life was changed by the conference or who was faced with a choice and held firmly to the belief that “I Choose.” Today’s story is courtesy of Jolene Erlacher, one of the speakers at this week’s Thrive Conference, who writes about choosing to live with purpose:

In the classic fable of the Fox and Cat, the two animals share strategies for responding to their mutual enemy, the fearsome dog. The Fox proudly boasts of his many complex tactics for avoiding the dreaded hounds. The Cat, on the other hand, timidly confesses possessing only one proven strategy for escaping attack. In that moment, a pack of dogs falls upon them. The Cat immediately executes her strategy, scrambling up the nearest tree. The Fox, on the other hand, begins to analyze and ponder which of his many options to pursue. Before he can make a decision, the dogs surround and attack him.

This little fable illustrates very different ways of responding to decisions we face. Have you noticed how many choices we encounter on a daily basis? When our alarm (or little feet running down the hall) wakes us as light is starting to peep through the window, the decisions begin. What do I wear? Do I check my messages first, or pick up my Bible? What can I make for breakfast that everyone will eat? How do I respond when I see that pile of dirty dishes or laundry left on the floor?

Recently, feeling overwhelmed with some decisions, I went into Starbucks planning to buy a mocha (which always helps me feel better!). On the counter was a sign announcing that a variety of new flavors were available. I stood there for several minutes, second-guessing my initial intent to get a plain mocha. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a mother trying to appease her active 3-year-old. Holding out her smartphone, she went through a list of games the child could choose from for entertainment. I was struck by how early in life we are presented with a variety of options.

Choice is a powerful part of our world today. We set our preferences, customize our purchases, and record the programs we want to see. We are used to having what we want, when we want it. While convenient and appreciated, too many choices and options can be negative, even paralyzing. Experts Amos Tversky and Eladar Shafir conducted insightful research into the dynamics of choice under conflict. They found that an increase of options from which an individual can choose actually enhances the tendency to defer a decision, sometimes indefinitely. Similarly, researchers Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper found that decisions made when there are many options can result in insecurity regarding the quality of the decision, as one later wonders about the potential outcome of other choices. For many of us today, options and alternatives surround many life decisions, from what posts to “like” or who to follow on social media, to our career path, education, finances, relationships, or faith. Unfortunately, with so many options facing us in many areas of life, it can be difficult to distinguish which decisions truly merit the careful analysis embraced by the Fox, and which are handled most effectively by a simple response like the Cat’s.

As leaders, our decisions and choices sometimes become responsive or reactive to situations and demands around us. In some cases, it is okay to just run up the nearest tree. However, thoughtful analysis, before a pack of dogs arrives, can be essential to purposeful leadership. What is most important for me to focus on in this current season of life? What am I gifted or designed to do? What is God (not the noise on social media or at the water cooler) asking me to do? What will success look like ten years from now, twenty years from now? If we want to live with purpose, we must choose to find space and time to regularly reflect on these questions, pray over them, and prioritize our time, energy, and resources accordingly. While there will always be seasons or situations that require a simple response of survival, living with purpose allows us to be proactive rather than responsive in our daily lives. Purpose eliminates choices that are not contributing to our goals and design, allows us to focus in on what is most important, and say “no” to what is not. May we daily embrace the challenge of choosing to live with purpose!