I think life is like an interstate that has many off ramps. When we describe our journey, we usually only consider the exits we took, but there is a similar impact from the times you did not leave the main road. It’s easy to reflect on the things that we did, but we are also shaped by the choice not to take many actions in life.
I’m teaching a class this term and I love it, so I began wondering why I was so late to the teaching game. I didn’t really begin teaching academic classes until a few years ago – and then I remembered that in the Nineties I was asked to teach a class, but my boss wouldn’t give me permission to do so. I never really considered it again until, many years and several institutions later, a faculty member became pregnant with twins and they needed me to teach. I have been a regular instructor ever since. Not teaching 20 years ago is one of those decision points that influenced many subsequent outcomes down the road.
I had this epiphany about (not) teaching while I was driving, and as my mind wandered I recalled numerous examples that would have had a ripple effect of consequences had I done something instead of passing on the opportunity. I turned down the chance to chair a convention which made me available to serve on the board. I haven’t touched my dissertation since the day I turned it in, closing off chances to present and publish in a new field. I didn’t take pre-calculus in high school so became a journalism major in college instead of marketing because of the calculus requirement for business majors. The list goes on.
The next time you’re on a drive or have the chance to do some reflection, consider just the exit ramps you drove by in your life. You may or may not regret staying on the path you took, but a big part of who you are comes from the roads you didn’t travel.