Monday, May 05, 2008

Life Changing Whims

Eric Zorn has a short but poignant post up about his son's decision on what college to attend. He had been accepted at four, but settled on one. His decision itself isn't all that interesting but its ramifications are:

When he looks back in 30 years, as I look back, he’ll see how consequential his decision was. He slipped into one narrative while people unknown slipped into the beginning of the alternate narratives that would have been his.

He’ll never meet those roommates, those buddies, those lovers. And he can only wonder idly what might have been and whatever became of the student who would have jumped off the waiting list to take his place at the school he finally settled on late Monday night.

Part of the drama in selecting a college is the attempt to work out these plots in advance and try to divine which story will have the happiest ending.

Only in retrospect do you really realize how futile that is, how huge a role chance and whim plays in your life, and how rare it is to be able to pick a path into the great unknown and rush down it.

I highlighted that last bit because that's something I've come to really appreciate. Even a very small decision can have a HUGE impact on your life. Sure, random things happen that affect the trajectory of your life all the time; a car accident, the death of a loved one, sudden job loss, etc. etc. Those things, while unexpected at the time, are things that are going to happen in one's life.

What I find interesting are the small things that become life changing events. They are often random and seemingly not very consequential at the time. Whims if you will. And there are things you do that have a large ramification to whim ratio. I can name several in my life but there is one that has my highest ramification to whim ratio.

One afternoon in the waning months of my college career, I was sitting in the newsroom of the college radio station working away at something. That day the Radio-Television department at the university was taking pictures of its soon-to-be graduates to be included in a graduates yearbook that was to be sent to a bazillion radio and TV stations everywhere. The idea was these stations might use it as a resource for hiring. I thought the concept silly and kind of a waste of time. I hadn't heard of anyone actually getting a job that way but, whatever. Besides, I was already busy and I'd have to go home, get on my one and only suit coat and tie, parade back through town and campus to get the picture taken and then nothing would ever come of it. I had pretty much decided to skip the whole thing. I was really only about 51/49 against the idea with laziness probably tipping the scales.

Well, as I sat there at my typewriter (hey, it was 1983), a friend of mine who also worked at the station happened by and asked when I was going to get my picture taken. At that very moment, not wanting to admit I was going to blow it off, I decided I might as well do it and get it over with. That one moment following a casual comment set off a delayed chain of events that set the course of my life for a long time.

I went and got my picture taken that day (and yes, was even mocked for walking around in a suit coat, much as I had anticipated). Shortly after graduation I received a copy of the yearbook in the mail and there I was. Big deal. But a few months later I got a phone call from a radio station in northern Illinois looking for a news person. They had seen me in the yearbook. I jumped at the chance and was soon working there. It was in that town I spent five years growing and learning, and I even met my first wife there.

For better or worse (the first wife being the worse part) the experience set my life on a path that would have been otherwise very different. Even though it's been 25 years, it's doubtdul I would now have the same job, wife, kids, car, house, etc. if I had not had my picture taken that day. That's not to say my life would be any better or worse, just that it would be different, maybe very different.

1 comment:

geek_guy said...

Joining the Army changed my life. Got me out of a small dead-end town (where they cling to God, Guns, and the Klan), got me to see a bit of the world, and paid for college. It opened doors for me. Of course signing up would open other doors: Hospitals, Psych Wards, and Funeral Homes.

Also with a random blowing of my engine one day, I met a girl I almost married.

My wife said if Chantily Lace didn't suck so bad the night she was out with co-workers, we wouldn't have met at another bar.