This week, at Panera for the third time, I got behind two ladies who were truly struggling with their orders. I couldn’t quite hear what was holding up the lady to my left, but the lady to the right was loud enough to get a full picture. The story begins with the ever difficult Panera question, “Would you like a 99 cent pastry with your order?” The sweet cashier stated very clearly and joyfully, “You may choose any pastry for 99 cents except the Kitchen Sink.”    

If you don’t frequent Panera often, the Kitchen Sink is a new cookie filled with all sorts of goodness that together add up to 800 calories.  Disclaimer: I have not tried the cookie nor do I make any money from Panera for this post. Just establishes the contact.    

Without exaggeration, the lady to the right looked and seriously studied the pastry counter for at least 3 minutes. Three minutes is a long time when the line is piling up.  It "feels" even longer when you are trying to get to a 1 hour presentation that is 5 hours away, and Panera is a halfway stop.   

The sweet cashier, observing this increase in the line, as I am sure she is trained to do, said, “I can print you an undecided ticket that you can bring back when you are ready,”    

Ahhhh, I thought. Brilliant. But, sadly, that wasn’t good enough. The undecided lady to the right walked the 4 steps back to the register and said, “I can’t decide so no, no I won’t get a pastry,” Her male friend stated very decisively that he wanted the pecan roll, and without hesitation, she returned to the pastry counter.  I won't pretend that I didn't have some very unfriendly thoughts in my head at this point, and I consider myself a pretty patient person during times like this.   

TWO more times the cashier patiently repeated, “I can print you an undecided ticket.” By this point, I was sure that more than 5 minutes had passed. Finally, after an exaggerated pause and sigh of frustration she chose the same pecan roll as her friend. The line moved on, and I sat to wait for the order I was finally able to make.    

Then, in all her glory, as I was gathering my Splenda packets next to the coffee station, she emerged from her table with a half picked over pecan roll. She was looking for the microwave to heat it up. I heard her tell the gentleman standing there, she didn’t like it; perhaps heating it up would help.     

I was reminded of a business conversation I had once. It involved leveraging or maximizing your “space on the shelves at grocery stores.” I learned that companies spend lots of marketing research dollars to pay for their product placement at the stores. The grocers don’t decide…the wallets of the individual companies do. End caps, expensive.    

Remember when there was only one kind of Special K or Cheerios? That lonely one flavor doesn’t catch our eye. It isn’t that we as consumers demanded berries or yogurt or chocolate or wholegrain…it is simply that they get more “shelf space” if they have more varieties. They are more likely to sell “any” of the boxes, when more boxes are present.    

I don’t know about you, but sometimes, all the choices get in the way of actually MAKING A CHOICE! There are sections of my life where this is most certainly true, but cereal and pastries aren’t one of them.  I can be real, cereal and pastries are not life changing – well maybe that Kitchen Sink Cookie would be – but in the realities of life, there are decisions that should require us to hold up the lines and other decisions that require us to order and move on.   

I recently discerned a bit of a job or career change. I spent a long time at the “pastry” counter for that one. More than a year. Some in my family would say that was too long, but others still wonder why I switched.   We all have those “things” in our lives - family changes, medication changes, job changes, politics, going back to school, etc. Things that we are allowed to remain undecided about for as long as it takes. We wish the sweet lady behind the “life” counter could print us an “undecided ticket” for those times.  

Ultimately, the lady to the right…the one that held up the line wanted the Kitchen Sink. She just wanted it for 99 cents. She asked multiple times why it didn’t count. The sweet cashier repeated that the Kitchen Sink was not an option for 99 cents, but she could pay full price for it if that was the pastry she really wanted. She settled. She wasn’t happy. After all the anguish, she settled. 

Life is about living. Life is about taking chances. Sometimes you get everything including the Kitchen Sink. Other times you get the pecan roll that needs to be heated up. Sometimes you just need to decide; pay full price. Sometimes, it is actually okay to take the “undecided ticket.”