The Third Option

It’s been used as an example of how different people view the same situation. The age-old question: is the glass half-full or half-empty? Optimists see it as half-full, pessimists see it as half-empty, or so we’re told. Who is right?

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But there is a third option. Neither side of the argument is correct. Both neglect to recognize the glass is completely full. True, it is half-full of water, but air fills the other half.  “That’s not fair!” you might say. It’s not a trick question, but something we should legitimately consider.

Some choices aren’t obvious

At first glance, we look at the glass and assume the choices are easy. Half-full or half-empty. We probably don’t even think much about it. We fall victim to our assumptions and fail to look at the situation as it is. Sometimes the third choice in not intuitive or obvious. Sometimes it doesn’t present itself on a silver platter. Sometimes the third choice takes thought and creativity. But it’s there, just waiting to be discovered like some buried treasure.

What if the third choice is the right one? What if the third choice is the one that has kept us from getting what we want? How many chances have we missed because we looked at the obvious options but failed to expend the time and creativity to realize there might be another way?

You have more choices than you might think

It’s amazing what options present themselves when we are simply willing to open ourselves up to the possibility they might exist. How often have we locked ourselves into a situation, assuming or stubbornly clinging to the choices as we see them. “It’s either ‘this’ or ‘that’,” we tell ourselves. And often we don’t like either option.

But when we admit there might be a third option besides “rock” and “hard place,” we are sometimes amazed at what solutions we will discover.

Why? Because when we resign ourselves to a limited set of circumstances, we stop trying to find a new route. We stop being creative; we stop looking for the elusive third option. When we look at the proverbial fork in the road and assume our choice is one route or the other, we fail to wonder what might happen if we went up the middle.

The road less traveled

Life is too complex, full of too many variables to lock ourselves into a strict set of formulas or rules. We submit ourselves to limitations because it absolves us of our responsibility. When we have a limited set of choices, we can blame our failure on fate or the luck of the draw.

There is a Latin proverb that says, “If the wind will not serve, take to the oars.” When you must reach your destination, lack of wind is not an option. If the wind isn’t blowing, use the oars. If you don’t have oars, use your hands or swim. When you must get there, blaming bad luck will not do.

I know I have often been guilty of excuses. I have been guilty of seeing the glass as half-full or half-empty, not even considering that there might be a third option. Have you ever used the phrase, “the lesser of two evils?” How many times do we look at our choices, not like either of them, yet resign ourselves to the one we find least offensive?

Here are a few steps that might help get you moving in the right direction during those times when you don’t like the obvious choices:

Admit there might be options you’re not seeing and refuse to accept anything less that a true solution. There are solutions out there, but you might never find them if you allow yourself the easy route of accepting the lesser of two evils. Refuse to submit. Burn your bridges and commit yourself to finding that third option.

Get some help. Sometimes another set of eyes and ears will catch something you’re missing. The emotion of your predicament can put you at a disadvantage. Someone with no skin in the game can think more clearly and might see an option you are missing. The key is to be humble enough to accept help. Don’t stubbornly resist an idea simply because you didn’t come up with it. The objective is to get to the right decision, no matter who thinks of it.

Think outside the box.  If the wind fails and you don’t have oars, maybe you can take the train or bus, maybe you can fly or walk.  You get my point. Many times we say, “the wind isn’t blowing, and I don’t have oars. I guess I’m screwed.” But we’ve already refused to accept that there isn’t another option. Often I will look at my options and reduce them down to the basics. Then I ask, “What am I missing? Can I combine options or create a new one? What if I thought completely differently about this situation, what solution might present itself?”

I know, I know, it’s just a glass. Who cares if it’s half-full, half-empty, or smashed in pieces? The exercise here is to admit that not everything is as cut and dried as we think. Think of the times when Lewis & Clark could have turned back. Think of Thomas Edison failing time after time as he worked on the electric light bulb. Think of those who have been told to quit, that there’s no way, that there’s no hope.

Think of Ronald Wayne. In 1976, Wayne was part of a little startup company formed in his friend’s garage. Twelve days after the three friends incorporated their company, Wayne began to feel like he was in over his head. “I was 40 and these kids were in their 20s,” Wayne recalled, “They were whirlwinds — it was like having a tiger by the tail. If I had stayed…I probably would have wound up the richest man in the cemetery.”

So after just twelve days in business, Ronald Wayne sold his 10% stake in Apple for $800. The value of those shares is hard to calculate, but in 2010 they were estimated at $2.5 billion, with most experts saying, given Apple’s recent growth, the figure would be substantially higher.

Ronald Wayne couldn’t see another way. He saw his choices as either stay and burn out or sell his shares and leave. But what about the third option? What if he had considered other options? What if he had cut his involvement back and just kept 5% of the company? It’s easy to play the “what if?” game, but the fact is that Ronald Wayne didn’t consider the third option. He says he doesn’t regret his decision but does anyone on earth believe he wouldn’t rather be a billionaire? He might have come to terms with his decision, but there has to be some regret there.

Sometimes life truly is binary. Sometimes there is only a choice between right and wrong.  Sometimes life comes down to yes and no, holding to our values or standards and not negotiating on things over which there is no other option.Sometimes you have explored your options and get to the place of having to choose between A and B.

But the majority of our lives exist in a wonderland of options. The distance between black and white is as far as we are willing to admit it can be. Sometimes overcoming blindness is as easy as simply opening your eyes. And as you refuse to admit you only choices are black and white, your eyes become opened to a myriad of shades of grey…way more than fifty!

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  • Fr. Wade Fahnestock August 18, 2015, 10:05 am

    Back in the FireEscape days, I remember wanting to believe that the Truth was only found in black & white, right & wrong. Yet, the dawning of computer desktop publishing allowed me to see images in something other than monochrome. I could select various grey settings – 8, 16, and up to 256 “shades of grey.” When color monitors were introduced, I could see not just thousands of colors, but millions and zillions of colors.

    About that same time I started considering the lilies of the field and the birds in the air… all similar, but all different. A spade wasn’t just a spade anymore. There were too many varieties, just like the sometimes overwhelming task of finding the exact style of green beans my wife wanted me to get at the grocery store!

    I like to think that there are always options, and this is where, “Ask, Seek, & Find” come into play in our quest for better life stories.

    Just my 2.6 cents today. Your mileage may vary.

    • August 18, 2015, 11:31 am

      Isn’t it freeing to see options in life?


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