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RECENTLY, I WAS shopping in a large home and garden chain store. I found a planter I liked very much, but the plant in it wasn't the color or at the point of maturity that I wanted. I asked the manager if I could switch the plant with a different type. I was amazed at her response. She told me that headquarters allowed her to sell only "Container A with Plant A." She could make no substitutions. There were no options.

My first reaction, as a businessperson, was to bristle. My second reaction was to the statement-"There are no options." What is life, if not a series of options? Life is like a stream. It is ever-changing; either we move with it, or we get left behind. Although we sometimes get stuck in a mind-set or a rut, we are all very capable of changing the direction our life stream is taking us. We just have to be able to see and use the options that are presented to us.

As more time passed, this particular situation took on yet another meaning for me. Thinking once again as a businessperson, I realized that what had happened was really the effect of big business on a simple transaction. The systems that large corporations put in place to make things run smoother often deny options, both to the salespeople and to the customers. To a degree, this is understandable-there must be a system in place to run a conglomerate. However, where these chain stores fail in terms of personalized service, a small business can prosper. The customer must always be afforded options, and we, as small-business owners, must always offer them. Sometimes, when we get a vision in our minds, that's hard to do. But, we have to remember whom we work for. The manager of that store, and his employers at headquarters, forgot that they work for the client. We can't.

There are options in business, options in design, options in the direction we take our lives. As we enter this new year, we do so with the promise of options, which equal new directions.

In the book, Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, I was moved by a scene in which the main character is forced to see her life as it really is-with all its tragedies and good fortune. She realized that by mourning the death of her mother and father for so long and so hard, she had died as well. Coming to terms with the fact that there is nothing a person can do to change the past, she turned to face a new direction. She no longer faced backward, but forward, toward the future. The option she chose was to live, not simply to exist.

We have all been faced with life-changing options, as well as the small day-to-day barrage of decisions we must make. Whether the basket comes with Plant A or Plant B, we must decide what we want. I had an option that day at the store. I could have taken the plant as is, bought all three items or left them all. I have an option every day I wake up. I can face the future, or I can face the past. I've chosen the future. Now, my remaining question is this: What will my future be? I choose that it be one filled with friends and associates who have the same spirit for life as I. My wish for you is a year filled with the ability to look for and to see the options before you.

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