Sunday, March 6, 2016

Chance & Circumstance

Any arbitrary turning along the way and I would be elsewhere; I would be different.
- Frances Mayes

I keep finding myself going down a dangerous rabbit hole.

It's the "What If" path. I'm betting it's one that everyone here is familiar with on some level or another. What if I'd done X just a little bit differently? What if I'd picked Y instead?

The original let's-try-this-route-instead. Illustration by John Tenniel.
There are the little ones. Go into the coffee shop to get some work done, eye the pastries and talk yourself out of that one raspberry cream cheese danish. Change your mind five minutes later ... but someone has already bought it. There's a quick twinge of regret and you get a blueberry muffin instead. Everything is fine. No lasting damage.

And there are the huge ones. What if you'd taken this job in this other state instead? What if you'd married The First One? Your entire life would be different. You'd live elsewhere. There would be different people and different places and entirely different experiences shaping you.

I don't mind either of those. The little things are easy to rectify. ["If I'd ordered that pastry, I would be eating it now." End of ramifications.] And the big things would make for such a huge difference that sending myself down those paths is more like watching a movie about someone else. It's more entertaining than anything.

The middle ground, though? That gets me.

These are the arbitrary turns, the things that are harder to imagine because they might end up being huge. Or they might not. What's more, they're almost easier to see because you can know exactly when a seemingly small decision could have been different. What if I'd gone home earlier and maybe found someone sneaking around in my garage? What if I'd talked to that CEO on the plane? What if I'd stayed after school and caught up with that person? What if I'd given That One Guy my phone number -- or better yet, asked for his? What if I'd answered Grocery Store Guy differently? [Ew. No. Bad example. Funny story, though.]

In my own world, I find this rabbit hole extra fascinating when I consider how much of my life has been seemingly dependent on chance. If a quarter had landed differently, I might have attended a different university. If I'd never had one very specific conversation with one very specific friend in college, I may have never worked my first summer at Storm. I have two different friends -- from two different parts of life -- that I wouldn't have if I had set my phone down in a different place.

Yeah. Entire humans I wouldn't even know existed if I'd been more careful with my cell phone.

The bright side here is that with almost all of these things I can see in hindsight, I landed on the positive side. I'm sure there are other things out there, opportunities I missed because I turned left, because I was running late, because I was responsible with my phone. I really can't dwell on those -- I have no idea when they happened or what they were. As far as my brain can tell, they don't really exist.

Instead, what I can see is a fantastic, fascinating mix of people and experiences that wouldn't have happened if I'd chosen different options. It's enough for me to be paying attention to the more interesting decisions I could make, the bigger and better opportunities to say, "Why not?" and just go. If the little options can make such a difference, imagine what the medium-sized ones can do.

Next time, though ... I'm moving on that phone number.

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