Can you imagine and relate to this scenario? You sat in silence, your heart overflowed with sorrow, and your eyes shed tears. You stared blankly ahead into a short distance where bundles of sympathy flowers draped loosely around your loved one’s coffin. Your mind wandered and conjured up unforgettable memories. Then a thought invaded your mind, “DANG! Life is short!” Immediately, you forgot all about the setbacks, the struggles, and the disappointments in life. Suddenly, you had a new perspective and appreciation for life – for living.

The question is, what prompted that change in your attitude, your thinking, and your outlook? That change happened because of a conscious choice you made at that moment.

You see, our current reality is a combination of our collective experiences and choices we’ve made up to now. In order to transform and become a better version of ourselves, we need to make better, quality choices. Period.

An Immigrant’s Journey

“It’s never easy living in America as a poor and uneducated immigrant. If you don’t make it here, it’s no one’s fault but yours,” said my father-in-law. This illuminating perspective profoundly resonated with me. Here’s a man whose life journey inspired me. He immigrated to the United States more than forty-five years ago with his wife, with no money, resources, or understanding of the American culture and language. For many years, he held three different low paying jobs concurrently while getting little sleep just to make ends meet. He saved enough money to purchase a home, raised a wonderful family, sent three daughters to college, sent money back home to support his parents and siblings, and retired comfortably in his early fifties.

As I reflect on his statement and his journey, I see some parallels between his journey, my own, and millions of other immigrants. I can’t help but ask these questions:

What key factors attributed to his and other immigrants’ achievements?

What would it take for the millions of Americans who still struggle—some going back for generations—to make ends meet, to realize the American dream?

There are no straightforward answers to those questions above. Everyone views the world through a different lens and has unique circumstances; however, a common denominator we all share that immensely contributes to our happiness and success is the quality of choices we make. Every second, every minute, every one of us consciously or unconsciously makes choices that yield consequences that directly or indirectly affect our overall well-being. Every day in our lives and in our work, the choices are ours: We can drift, or we can do something extraordinary. The choices we make either move us toward or away from our dreams. Sometimes the choices are trivial and inconsequential, such as making the choice to watch The Big Bang Theory on TV or banging away on the keyboard to complete a blog post or a book. Other times, the choices can produce significant consequences that literally can change people’s lives. For example, here’s a real story of a courageous woman who made bold choices in dire circumstances that completely changed the course of my life, forever. She gave me life. She gave me unconditional love. This courageous woman is my mom.

Photo courtesy of dpa/Koichi Sawada – Boat people

My Journey to America

Mom abruptly woke me and my two siblings from our deep sleep. She swiftly slung my younger brother onto her back and hurriedly dragged my older brother and me out of our run-down, rusty tin shack located in my grandfather’s backyard. I didn’t know where we were heading. Mom whispered these words, “Stay awake and keep walking.”

It felt as if we’d trekked the entire night through the crowded streets among scores of unrecognizable people to reach the Da Nang City train station. (I was born in Da Nang City, the largest city in central Vietnam.) We all boarded the train heading to Hue City, which was about two hours away. The train ride was uneventful until a young passenger was killed. We came to a complete halt until a thorough investigation was completed. It turned out the boy was riding on top of the train, and he slipped off to his death. The police questioned every passenger.

“Where are you going with so many people?” the police asked Mom and others.

“We have a family reunion in Hue City,” lied Mom and others.

If they knew of our destination and intention to flee Vietnam, then they would have captured and punished us harshly. Mom had been captured twice for attempting to escape. She served time in jail and was interrogated and tortured. Two of her fingernails were ripped away from her fingers with a pair of pliers. She could’ve made the easy choice of staying behind because of these two captures, but she did not let them deter her from making the choice to escape the third time (this is an excerpt from Thrive).

What about you?

I love to hear your story. Life is full of challenges, changes, and choices. What challenges are you dealing with now? What difficult changes and choices are you making to improve your circumstances?

You can use the framework I created below to get you start thinking and making quality choices in life and work.

Care: What is the one thing that you care most about right now in your life or work? In other words, what is the one area that you want to change or improve right now?

Choice: What choices do you have to turn this change into reality? Come up with as many choices, options that you could think of.

Consequence: What positive or negative consequences, benefits associated with each choice?

Choose: Of the choices, choose one that will result in a high degree of benefit and relatively easy to implement. What is one action you will take within the next 72 hours to catapult you toward your change? Keep in mind, if negative consequences outweigh the benefits of change, we delay or prevent change from happening.

There you have it. Make quality choices. Get moving. Sustain the momentum. Start small, but start now! Good luck.


Jimmy Dang