Choices for Living

In life, we are constantly faced with choices. We are blessed or cursed with the gift of free will, depending on your prospective.

From the smallest detail of “Do you want fries with that?” to “Do you take this woman to be…?,” in America, we have endless choices.

People can choose to work hard and by doing so possibly achieve great success and accumulate wealth. Some choose to dedicate their energies to benefiting humanity.

Each choice we make sets us upon a path. Even the simplest thing like having one extra cup of coffee in the morning could change your schedule enough to prevent you from being part of an auto accident.

As I look back on my choices, there are some I would like to change in spite of the fact I do not know what path changing them would have brought. But I cannot change them; I only have the power over what lies ahead, not behind. I can only try to learn from those past choices.

Using my television exposure as a podium, I have spent much of my life speaking to youth about living a successful drug-free life. My work yielded the attention of the National Drug Abuse Resistance Education Officer’s Association. As a result, they made me an Honorary D.A.R.E. Officer. I have encouraged thousands across the country to make the choice not to use drugs. I do not know if any made that choice. I can only hope that at least one did.

No matter how you try to influence others, the ultimate choice lies with them. With that choice also lays consequences. When you make a choice that affects you, your family or even others you do not know, it is up to you to take responsibility for what that choice brings.

Many times people try to shift the blame if things are not going as they planned. I think we pick up this behavior as a child. It is the old “He did it” approach to avoid punishment. I do not know about you, but that never worked for me. It only made the punishment worse.

As an actor/entertainer you face career choices constantly, like “Do I take this movie role?” or “Which song should we single from the CD?” It is much like running your own business, and you are ultimately responsible for every decision. Performers try to keep their options open so if a better opportunity comes along they will be available to do it.

A few years ago I went through a series of auditions for Disney and got a part on a new children’s show, which was going to be their answer to Barney. I was to be a cross between Roy Rogers and Barney the dinosaur. At least I did not have to wear a costume like Mickey Mouse. But I did have to wear an old-fashion, singing cowboy outfit. I borrowed one from my old friend Little Roy Lewis of the Lewis Family that had been worn by a hero we share — WSB Barndance host Cotton Carrier. That choice was a good one because the producers loved that costume. By my third round of auditions for Disney brass, the message through my management was: “Do not forget the suit.” I later joked with Cotton that they gave me the job because I was the only who could fit in his suit.

So I did get the job. I was to co-star in a five-day-a-week children’s show over five years with numerous personal appearances on the road in front of thousands of screaming, adoring fans age two to five. Even merchandising was rumored. Could you imagine me with my own action figure?

I chose to pursue this opportunity. I waited patiently for around six months holding my calendar open. For those of you not in show business, that means not making any money while staying available. After all the auditions and big plans, the show was shelved without a single episode being shot. That choice cost me money, time and other opportunities. From that, I learned never to get excited about possible jobs until after I do the work and cash the check.

Even though you work, you may not make the final product. A working actor’s greatest fear is landing on the cutting room floor. How many hundreds of feet of film of me must have wound up on the floor of MGM/UA when I was doing “In The Heat Of The Night.” I know because of someone’s choices for the finished show some of my work never got seen, but I did get paid.

One time I made a choice to pass on a host position for a new, five-day-a-week live show on a major cable network. For years, I have wanted to do just that. But when I look at where I was in my life at the time, the responsibilities I had at the time for family, I decided it was not the right thing for me at the time.

I decided for me, at this point in my life, chasing carrots that may be taken away a few weeks down the road is not where I am right now.

No matter what choice you make, they are your choices. You ultimately have to live with what results from them. So if you are making a life-changing choice, become informed about what may happen depending on which path your choice leads you down.

Even if it turns out to be the wrong choice, at least you did not go down that path with blinders on.