“Cementing” the Past


When I was four years old my father taught me an object lesson in choice making.

My dad was a jack of trades, he loved to work with his hands.  From a very early age I was exposed to organic gardening, alternative energy sources and all around clean country living.  My sister likes to say that our dad was an organic hippie before being an organic hippie was hip.

In the spring and summer of 1976 my parents bought a small acreage in Southwestern Ontario and built a house on it themselves.  We moved in August and one warm fall day while dad was mixing concrete and pouring a slab for our front step I learned a lesson that would stick with me to this day.

A Cement Mixer similar to the one my dad used to build our house. He actually had two for some reason…

How did I learn this life lesson at the ripe old age of four?  My dad showed me while pouring concrete.

You see, after you mix concrete and pour it out in the area you want to cover the next step is to take a large trowel and smooth it out as flat and cleanly as you can.  The trick is to mix the concrete with just the right amount of water so that you can manipulate it with the trowel but no so much that it takes too long to dry.

Once troweled you need to watch it carefully to make sure no imperfections arise from an air bubble or something landing on it.  If that happens you must quickly trowel out the imperfection again before it sets.  Once concrete sets it’s as hard as a rock and you’ll never get it smooth again after that.

After I watched my dad work for what seemed like hours mixing, spreading and troweling this slab of concrete to perfection, all the while explaining to me exactly what he was doing, he did something completely incomprehensible.  He took a stick, wrote his name in the corner of this perfectly troweled concrete slab and walked away!

Our family moved out of that house in 1989 but to this day, unless the new owners used a jack hammer, on the corner of the front step you can still clearly see. “A. Sheil, 1976”

When we make choices in life it’s as if the concrete of our past sets instantly.  You can’t go back and un-ring a bell as the old proverb says and you can’t trowel your name out of dry concrete.

Once you make a choice it’s fixed in the past.  The only thing left to do is figure out how to continue living moment to moment and that choice is binary.  You either do A or B.  There is no C because you can’t make two choices at once.  You may be able to return to C later, after the consequences of A or B have been experienced but the choice you make is always between two options.

So why am I telling you this?

This is a blog about life, business, personal finance and spirituality.  There is nothing more relevant to all four of those things than the way we make choices.  A lot of motivational gurus will tell you that your choices and options are always open and that’s true but once made your choices are fixed, like concrete.  You can’t go back.  All choices have consequences and like writing your name in concrete, the results of your choices will leave visible manifestations on your life forever.

So how do you make choices?  Once fixed, how do you deal with the results?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments below…

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