By Design or Default (Where Are You?)

“Iron rusts from disuse; water loses its purity from stagnation… even so, does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.” –  Leonardo Di Vinci

It’s so messy!

Those were the words our four-year-old daughter, Esther, as she responded after I pointed to her a residential construction site as we headed home from school. I proceeded to explain they were building a beautiful house. She couldn’t fathom how something beautiful could come out of such a messy place. Neither can we, especially when it references our own lives. We all have regrets and mistakes that we have made. We wish we could go back and armed with the knowledge we have now, do some things differently. Given the chance, I would avoid financial debt like the plague. But that is not possible. What we do have is today and how we use it to chart a better tomorrow.

In this month’s blog series, I will use the following checklist to determine whether we are living life by design or by default. If it is by design, then these posts will solidify what you are already doing. If it is by default, I hope you will glean helpful insights to make necessary adjustments.

  1. Where are you? (Today’s post)
  2. Where are you going? (Arriving March 12th)
  3. What are you doing? (Arriving March 19th)
  4. Who are you with? (Arriving March 26th)

 Let’s begin with knowing where you are.

Designed Directories

If you have been to a mall and don’t know how to reach where you are going, directories designed with maps are placed in strategic places to help you. But in order to get to where you want to go, you must first locate where you are. This is important and applicable in life as well. If you don’t know where you are, how can you get to where you want to go? Your current status is a key indicator of your future state; you can only manage what you measure.

Measure and Manage

I recall how years ago I didn’t like to budget my money. It felt restrictive, almost like a straightjacket. But, I was doing myself a disservice. Without tracking my current financial status I was crippling my future financial success. This ignorance made me oblivious to the consequences of financial mismanagement. I couldn’t manage what I wasn’t measuring. Thankfully, I made the necessary adjustments and our home is better for it. 

One of the best financial decisions that I think anyone can make is to have a budget. As I now understand it, it is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went. On a personal note, a budget is a by-design system to track where you are financially in order to project where you want to be. Without a system of measurement, we will not be able to look past the messes and see something beautiful in the making. 

Beauty in the Mess

The construction workers at the “messy” site are well aware of how the site looks. But because it is by design, they are confident that something beautiful is in the making. I know this because after we passed by another site that was complete with a fully built house, my daughter pointed out, “Look, that one is all clean!” What if those construction workers gave up because of the mess they saw each day? I believe that despite the mess, they were sure that they were building by design and not default. They had a mental picture of what they were building. I am more convinced with each passing day that the state of mind I am in is critical to the quality of life I experience. Years ago an interviewer asked the late theologian and doctor Albert Schweitzer, “What’s wrong with people today?” After a few seconds, the wise doctor replied, “People don’t think!” I could add that people don’t think about what they think about. With that in mind, I periodically use these five questions to assess my thought life when tracing where I am at any given point in life. I mentioned them in an earlier blog post but I will flesh them out today:

  • What am I thinking about? I discovered that the inventory of thought we consistently carry is proportional to the level of growth we experience in our life. How often do you think about what you are thinking about? As we investigate our thinking patterns we discover why we are where we are. 
  • Why am I thinking this way? Alone on a drive, a series of thoughts sneaked into my mind. They were self-defeating thoughts that led to negative self-talk. After a few minutes of this, I shouted out loud in the car, “Why am I thinking this way?” In hindsight, I wonder what other motorists thought of me. This question not only broke the flow of these thoughts but evicted it out of my mind as I sought to understand where this thinking pattern originated from.
  • Where did this thinking pattern originate from? This is the crux of the five questions. It’s the breaking point that leads to the turning point. This question compels me to come face to face with the source of the thought. This can be painful hence the difficulty but therapeutic hence its importance. Was I exposed to something or someone recently that is causing this? Or, is it stemming from a childhood experience that was hurtful but has remained hidden thus hindering my progress today?
  • Is this pattern helpful or hurtful in light of where I am heading? I still do not recall where I was going on that drive but I knew the thoughts I was thinking were taking me to a place that was harmful to my destiny. Honesty is the best policy when answering this question. Transparency will lead to the final question that moves into what I call by design thinking.  
  • What new thinking patterns do I need to adopt or develop in this season of my life? I consider my mind to be my greatest asset. As such, I need a playbook of thought that is on par. I have found that to be the Bible. The mental diet you are on supplies the nutrition of thought you need for the growth necessitated by the season you are in. Whether by design or default, we are what we think.  And what you feed your mind will show in your life.

Final thought: The construction site that we passed by weeks ago has changed for the better as of this writing. It may not be as “clean” as my daughter would like it to be but it is not as messy as it was. It has led me to believe that the messiness of life is sometimes part of the design that leads to something of beauty in the end. Do you know where you are? Is it by design or by default? Remember you can only manage what you measure.

Keep on keeping on! 


  1. Amazing, I am encouraged by this blog. Never thought beyond the word messy. Thanks David for never giving up. Consistency is the key here. Always learning and getting encouraged by what you write.


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