Thursday, October 25, 2007

What I Could Have Been

Have any of you wondered what you could have been had you decided to make some different choices in your life? I'm not talking about mistakes that you've made, but rather about fundamental choices about how you wanted to live your life, particular with regards to your career or your family. I'm a big fan of alternate history, time travel, and anything similar that comes from science fiction -- Star Trek episodes where they time travel have always been my favorite.

I also am a big believer in the adage that "by small and simple things are great things brought to pass." Essentially, little choices can have huge ramifications down the line. In thermodynamics, a slight tweak in the initial conditions of a thermal analysis can dramatically alter the end result. In a steel beam, a very small flaw can significantly decrease its overall strength and stiffness, eventually causing a catastrophic failure. In orbital mechanics, a very small maneuver performed in space can cause an astonishing change in the trajectory and final destination of a spacecraft.

So it is that very small or simple choices can cause very big changes in our lives down the line. For me, there have been several key points in my life where my choices have led me where I am. I'll try to enumerate a few of them here:

Experience 1:

When I was in high school, I desperately wanted to be a pilot. My test scores were really good, so I actually had the chance to go to the Naval Academy for a "Summer Science and Engineering Seminar" the summer between my junior and senior years. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to get to know the environment, be exposed to military life, and to strut my stuff. I had the skills, the build, and the brainpower (I think) to do it. What I also had was a desire to serve as a missionary for my church and to have a family. At the time, these two didn't really go well together.

My experience at the Academy showed me just how morally loose most people are when given a little bit of latitude, and I concluded that the Academy was not the place for me to prepare to serve a mission. In addition, at the time, they weren't allowing LDS cadets to leave for two years to serve a mission mid-program, which wasn't something I could accept. I also learned that they only took the top of the class into pilot training, and I wasn't willing to risk not making the cut (I was/am a little cocky, but I also had/have a grasp of statistics ...). Needless to say, I passed on the Academy, thereby passing on my opportunity to be a pilot, and passing on a life in the military.

Experience 2:

The summer after my junior year in college, I had the opportunity to go to work by San Francisco at Lockheed Martin in Sunnyvale, CA. I knew nobody who lived there, and literally packed my stuff in the car and took off to live with complete strangers. When I got there, I quickly discovered that my roommates were not exactly golden boys: one would lock himself in his room and smoke weed on a regular basis (and yes, he was a church member! Barely ...), and the other was just plain weird -- girl-obsessed but socially awkward in every way. In any case, we didn't get along, so we spent very little time together. I found myself effectively on my own, completely alone. Nobody had any preconceived notions about the kind of person I was, and nobody could or would pass judgment on my decisions.

I had a choice to make: what kind of person would I be when faced with a fresh start? Would I go crazy and do all the morally questionable things that I had been taught my whole life? (And had taught to others as a missionary.) I was most certainly girl crazy, with lots of girls around who did not share my church's standards. However, I also had something else inside of me that encouraged me to make good choices. I continued to study my scriptures, say my prayers, and attend my church meetings. I would be a very different person today had I made different choices that summer.

I always remember something somebody told me: "The measure of a man is what he does when nobody is watching." I have no idea where that came from, but it seems appropriate, and I've always remembered it. Am I a perfect person? Absolutely not, but I try hard.

Experience 3:

I was in college and was starting to get pretty serious about a girl I was sort-of dating. She was a good friend of mine with whom I had had many classes. Over the course of the years, our friendship grew into something a little more, and we soon began to spend a lot of time together. In my head, I was convincing myself that I wanted to marry her, even though I wasn't really quite in love. She was a very good choice, a very good woman, and probably we would have had a perfectly content life together. Nevertheless, she knew better than I and made other plans that didn't include me -- I was devastated.

In my emotionally destroyed state, I went through the usual stages -- denial, anger, recklessness, sorrow, and finally got to being jaded. Coming back from California (see Experience 2, above), I decided to move to a totally different place at the university and to date as many people as I could. I simply didn't care about establishing a relationship with anybody, but just intended to date and date and date.

Well, that didn't last long. After I had thrown in the towel on getting into a meaningful relationship, I met my wife. She was perfect for me in every conceivable way. I just couldn't see it for a while -- a whopping seven weeks. At the end of those seven weeks, I made the most important choice of my life: I was going to marry this girl. The problem was that I was too afraid of being rejected again. Interestingly enough, my wife had known that she wanted to marry me after knowing me only a week, and felt a spiritual confirmation that it was right. She was patient, held her cards close to her chest (hence my doubt) so as not to scare me away (which was wise), and just let me express my flippant attitude towards our relationship.

The day I proposed, I picked her up for a date and while I stared straight ahead at the road in front of us (we were still parked), I said, "I think we should start making some long-term plans."

I still think this was a brilliant statement. It was sufficiently ambiguous that if she really wasn't into me she could have interpreted "long-term" to be anything she wanted, even just "several weeks" if that suited her fancy. I had my out that would allow me to extract myself from the relationship if things weren't going as I hoped they were. Much to my astonishment, she replied, "Well, it's about time." Within minutes, we had both expressed our love for each other, and were planning our wedding date. It was seven weeks from meeting to engagement, and three-and-a-half months to the marriage. It was far too long.

-

So, sometimes I play the "what if" game in my head, going through some of these decisions and wondering. Nevertheless, my choices have led me where I am today ... and I'm happy.

3 comments:

Melissa said...

Jacob left himself no such "out." I had just told him, "Don't ask me--I'm not ready yet," to which he responded, "I think we should get married." To which I responded, "I think so, too." That was a month after we started dating (half of that time spent apart from each other and just e-mailing) and we were married 4 1/2 months later!

Megan said...

All I have to say is that you made a great choice! :)

Anonymous said...

I am so Glad you made the right choices. It must have been a little concerning when you went to California to Lock Heed. I have no doubt that you and Angel were meant for each other.

Love MOm Glad

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