“Life is the sum of all your choices.” ~Albert Camus
Ever wondered what might have been?
Ever thought about where and who you’d be if only you’d done something differently, gone somewhere else, chosen something or someone else?
Probably so, if you’re like most.
But have you ever imagined where you might go and what you might still become, with the choices you yet have left?
My friends and I were hanging out not too long ago, before I moved away from them (totally escaping their awesome grasp) to start a new life of sorts in this surface-of-sun-like heat of Austin. (I’m not used to it yet, possibly because I’m convinced one of these days I’ll walk outside and spontaneously combust.)
Anyway, we were doing what we often do—making fun of the university we went to, when someone asked where else I could have gone. What other schools could I have chosen instead?
The question pretty much weirded me out right away.
I mean, it’s a reasonable question, I guess—except for the fact that I had never thought about it before. It’s like I had completely forgotten how close I was to having a very different life.
It seems I had only ever thought of whether I should have gone to college at all—not whether I should have gone somewhere else. For this odd reason it was a little unsettling (the next day, when I actually had the time to consider it).
It isn’t simply a question of the pros and cons of the different places I turned down and the one I ultimately chose, but of what my life would be now if I had done so.
Where would I be?
What would I be?
Who would I be?
And I didn’t like it. I realized the strange irony of it—sitting there joking with my friends about the school we went to.
The thing is, we wouldn’t know each other if not for that school and our time spent there. I wouldn’t know any of the people I now call my best friends. I wouldn’t know any of the people I now hang out with. I wouldn’t have met the first girl I loved.
I wouldn’t have experienced any of the things that ultimately led me to depression, which forced me to change myself, and my life, for the better.
And I definitely wouldn’t be sharing my often strange thoughts and stories online for the world to see, as I’m doing now here, and usually do on my website.
And then, of course, you wouldn’t be sitting here reading it.
I don’t know where I’d be, or what I’d be, or who I’d be. And most of all, I don’t like the thought of it.
What I realized that day is this: If given the opportunity I definitely might go back and change my choice, but I would not undo now what I did then.
Because how could I?
What do I have now that I do not in some way owe to that decision?
For better or worse I am that decision now. I am the effect of that choice. I am the growth of the seed planted that day.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But that decision was not the only decision that made me, of course. I couldn’t list the many that did if I had infinite time to do it (and I’m pretty sure none of us do).
I am not simply that decision. I am all of my decisions, every single one—the countless I chose, and the countless I let others choose for me through my indifference, laziness, or weakness.
How many do I have left?
How many decisions must I still make until my time has expired or my options are taken from me? How many more crossroads will I approach in life like the one I did on that day in my senior year of high school, when I chose a school simply because it was closest, cheapest, and most prestigious?
How many opportunities to change my life really remain?
1? 20? 43?
I don’t know, obviously. My superpowers are pretty much limited to guessing which elevator door will open in lobbies. (True story, though I’m pretty freakin’ sure it wouldn’t make for the most thrilling comic book.)
Some say that every moment is a choice. Others say every day. Many, of course, just wait until the obvious choices come to them, which is a choice in itself.
I don’t know if any of those are right. I think that with anything you may want in life, or any change you might make, there exists a certain time when it’s time—an opportunity presents itself, and it’s clear that if it’s to happen at all, it happens now.
Every day may be a choice, but not every choice comes with an opportunity.
That day in high school when I chose my college, it was both my choice and my opportunity—one that led me to becoming the man I am today.
The boy who wants to be an astronaut will have a similar choice and opportunity.
One is forever. The other is not.
Though he wakes up every day with the choice to try, he will not always wake up with the opportunity. There aren’t many 80-year-olds in space, or people transferring jobs from McDonald’s to NASA.
His choice is forever. His opportunity is not.
If he’s to become what he dreams, he must make that choice when the opportunity is his—when it’s his own, when it’s his time—or he loses the ability to achieve it at all.
I think we do have a certain finite number of choices left that can affect us throughout our lifetime—that can re-make us, change us, and improve us. We will only receive so many new opportunities in life.
Maybe it’s a handful. Maybe it’s much more. Maybe, though, there’s just one choice left.
You just don’t know.
However many decisions remain in our lives, we better make the most of them, right? We better be prepared for them. We better be ready—not only to make the decision, but to see it through.
Every day when we neglect the decision is one less where the opportunity will remain.
Life is the sum of our choices. If our opportunities are short-lived, as they are, then there are but few choices left that may change us forever. That will be to you what my college was to me.
What will you do with those choices? Are you ready for them?