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.

About the Author leadership dots by dr. beth triplett

I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action. I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.

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