Life Sinks or Soars

"I began to realize that I had been spending my entire life as a victim, always questioning why the whole world seemed to be conspiring against me, why the only luck I ever had was bad luck when, in fact, my whole life had been playing out like a symphony and, all along, I had been the conductor."

- Life Sinks or Soars, page 36

Rael Kalley takes an interesting approach with his book, Life Sinks or Soars: The Choice is Yours. Rather than employing the typical business book conventions, Life Sinks or Soars reads more as a novel. He creates two fictional characters, Hugh and Earl. The two first forged a friendship when Hugh intercepted and prevented Earl from facing the wrath of the schoolyard bullies.  Since then, while they have remained friends, life has taken the two men on different paths. Now both middle aged, Hugh can boast success in almost every aspect of his life, including business and family. Earl, on the other hand, has had several unsuccessful businesses, two failed marriages, and is at the end of his rope. Exasperated, he calls Hugh, who hops on the first plane to impart the secrets of his success to his old friend. The ‘secrets’ are universal and applicable to all.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

The Gift of Choice

"This gift determines our finances, our relationships, our careers, our education, our personal growth, our spiritual growth, our physical health, our emotions, everything."
- Life Sinks or Soars, page 34

This may sound overly simplistic and obvious, and Kalley, through his character Hugh, acknowledges as much: We are all given the gift of choice. The book’s tagline is quite poignant: “We are where we have chosen to be”. Everything we do in life is based upon choice, and we are forced to make countless choices as we go about our daily lives. When we give in and order that delicious looking chocolate cheesecake for dessert at lunch, it impacts our diet and, consequently, how much harder we’ll have to push ourselves that evening at the gym. Where Earl finds himself on his journey is a direct result of a million different choices he has made. Knowing how to make the correct choices—and why we should make them—is the purpose of this book. As Hugh says, “The slightest difference in the choices we make will profoundly influence the largest differences in the end results.”

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Build A New Muscle

"I have spent a lifetime searching for the ‘easy’ method of overcoming years of crushing self criticism and I can assure you it is as mythical as a unicorn."
- Life Sinks or Soars, page 36

Often the choices we make are a manifestation of how we innately feel about ourselves. It’s probably appropriate to say that having self doubt is a common human denominator; we all face it to some degree, whether we want to admit it or not. However, for some of us, insecurities plague us to such an inordinate degree that they can prevent us from being successful in our endeavors. Often this feeling is deep-rooted and, like sculpting your body at the gym, the desired results take time. This is why Kalley refers to building confidence as “building a new muscle”.

An extreme lack of confidence and/or feelings of unworthiness could have been ingrained from a young age, perhaps by someone contending with their own demons, telling us that we’d never amount to anything. That manifests itself later on, at any given time, when we go to attempt something new. To a lesser degree, someone telling us that we’re not good enough at a sport may force us to lose all interest in attaining greatness in that particular arena. What other people think about us, and what we then think of ourselves, has great implications.

To offer a personal example, recently I have started reading through a list of the ‘100 Greatest Books Ever Written,’ hoping that some that some of the greatness of these canonized writers will rub off. While immersed in the first of these classics, I couldn’t help but think that I’ll never possess the great command of the English language that they do. I had to remind myself that while I may not be an Emily Bronte or an F. Scott Fitzgerald yet, there’s nothing to stop me—except for myself—from excelling and writing my own masterpiece. Lofty ambitions I know, but why not shoot for the stars?

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life


"…if you can’t clearly articulate your reasons why you want this prize or these prizes [as a result of achieving your goal], you will not stay the course."
- Life Sinks or Soars, page 52

It is important to have goals. We all know this. But why set a goal? What’s the purpose? In other words, what’s the prize, or prizes, when you’ve completed the goal? If you can’t put into words what the prize is, it’s simple: you’re not going to achieve the goal. Again, it boils down to choice. “We only do what’s important to us in the moment and it’s the accumulation of those ‘one things’ we do in the moment that will either steer us towards our goal or away from it,” the book says.

Kalley continues, “Our reasons for doing what we need to do to achieve our goals have to be much bigger than our reasons for not doing those things. They have to be so big that they overwhelm all other reasons.” But achieving goals is time consuming, and it’s important not to expect instant results. If you do, you’ll be disappointed and likely give up. Successful people know how to stick with it, even when there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel.

Whatever we choose, “there is no escape from the pain.” The two types of pain Kalley describes are discipline and regret. The pain of discipline is all of the hardwork required to attain the desired outcome of the goal. The pain of regret is the guilt one has to live with when they don’t attempt their goals. Again, the choice is yours and yours alone.


When I first began reading Rael Kalley’s Life Sinks or Soars: The Choice is Yours, I felt that perhaps the book’s lessons were too obvious, but I quickly changed my mind. They are obvious, but that does not preclude the fact that so many people don’t know how the harness the gift of choice that we all innately posses. I was immediately reminded of several instances of friends or acquaintances saying, “I wish I could do that” or “I wish I could have that”. The truth, of course, is that they can. We all have the gift of choice, and it’s ours to make.

I want to leave you with my favourite quote from the book, one attributed to Aristotle:  “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

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Andy Budgell

ABOUT Andy Budgell

Andy is the Managing Editor at Actionable Books. A graduate of the University of Waterloo's English Rhetoric and Literature program, Andy brings a love of words to Actionable, and complements the team with his distinct writing ability, amazing customer service, and a passion for film.
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