A life is often molded by a collection of seemingly small events and choices. Something that doesn't seem very important at the time can change everything.
There are two events from my life that make the point. They concern two decisions I made. One didn't seem like a big deal at the time but affected the rest of my life. The other involved a choice in my career's direction. I knew it was a critical decision and involved substantial risk.
Decision #1: Being a Camp Counselor
When I was 14 years old I applied for a summer job as a camp counselor. This was perfect for a teen boy. It meant being away from home for most of the summer, living in a cabin in the woods, swimming, boating, and hiking. It satisfied my need to be a leader and in charge of a group of young campers. After several meetings to discuss my responsibilities and allowing those in charge to judge my suitability, I was hired as a counselor in training. The day came to depart. My parents took me to the place where the kids were to board the buses. We said our goodbyes and I took my suitcase and boarded a bus for the two hour trip to the camp. I expected to be away for 8 weeks.
Exactly 6 days later my parents drove to the camp to take me home. Rather quickly I had learned that being a camp counselor was not for me. Whether it was homesickness, or living in a cabin with a dozen 9 year old boys, or for some other reason entirely I'll never know. But, it was not for me and luckily I was able to leave.
So, how did that leaving the camp affect my life in a profound way? By being home that summer I discovered my true love, radio. I spent all my free time learning everything I could about it. I set up two turntables and pretended to broadcast radio shows for hours at a time. That summer lead to my getting a job as a janitor at a small station not too far from my home a few months later. Then, to an on-air DJ shift which turned into a three decade long career. By "failing" as a camp counselor, I succeeded in finding my life's work.
Decision #2: Taking a Major Career Risk
In the second instance, I was working for a radio station in Morgantown, WV. While that is where I met and married my wife, that isn't the decision I'm referring to. Rather it was the choice I made to leave a comfortable life in town for the high risk chance to become a consultant.
At the time Morgantown was a small city of 25,000. West Virginia University is there so the town was a fun place to be. With only four radio stations being a DJ and program director of two of them made me a rather large fish in a small pond. I was a minor celebrity and people knew me. My favorite uncle lived there as did my wife's parents. It was a comfortable life. If I choose to do so I could have remained for the rest of my life and been happy.
In a lucky happenstance that I detailed in an earlier post, I was put in touch with the country's leading radio consulting and research company, and offered a job. To accept would require moving to Iowa and leaving all our family and friends behind. It would mean giving up my "big fish" standing with no guarantee that I was actually good enough to succeed in the rather rarefied air of big league consulting. Frankly, I didn't think I had the experience to be put in such a situation. I could easily fall flat on my face.
I did decide to risk comfort for greater challenges. My new bride agreed, with more than a little trepidation, to leave her family for Cedar Rapids, Iowa. That decision allowed me to learn the consulting side of the business from the best. Just by being part of that company I had instant credibility with every major broadcast group in the country. Eventually, that experience allowed me to start my own company and build a solid career. If I hadn't risked it all by leaving the safety of the familiar for the bigger payoff of the unknown, it is highly unlikely my life would have developed anything like it has. Certainly, it is unlikely I be sitting here in front of my computer blogging about having a Satisfying Retirement.
Your life's course probably mirrors mine in some ways. Decisions made or unmade, opportunities presenting themselves, lucky breaks, unlucky breaks...all combined to make your life what it has been to this point. You controlled some of those choices, but many you did not.
What that leaves all of us is to take what we are given and make it something uniquely ours. Any day you may be faced with a choice that seems unimportant, or one that is clearly of critical importance. What you decide will affect everything that is to come.