Making Choices: Sometimes Even Minor Decisions Can Have Profound Impacts

Have you ever wondered what your life might be like if, at certain career and personal crossroads, you had made different choices?

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference.”

— Robert Frost

“When you come to a fork on the road, take it.”

— Attributed to Yogi Berra

When you get to a certain age, you tend to look back on decisions that got you to where you are.

Some seemed momentous even at the time you made them. Others might have seemed trivial in the moment but turned out to affect the course of your life profoundly. Still others were decisions involving you that someone else made.

I suppose some people are so focused early on in life that they make each decision in a careful and calculated way, everything plotted in detail. My late younger brother, for example, wanted to be an engineer. He earned his college degree, went to work for a manufacturing company, stayed there, and rose through the ranks to executive vice president — all according to plan.

But many if not most of us follow less structured paths, and so random decisions along the way can take us places we never thought we would go. For example, I always thought I would be a writer of some sort, but didn’t picture myself editing water and wastewater magazines, as I’ve done for the past 20-plus years.

Getting started

I graduated college with a degree in English, emphasis on writing, but having little idea what to do with it. A placement counselor suggested I go for a summer internship on the local daily newspaper; I did so, got it, and so began a seven-year stint as a journalist.

Well, not right away. In the meantime, I won acceptance to journalism graduate school, decided not to attend and just moved to the college town, planning to work odd jobs for a year to clear my head and escape the pressure of constant studying for a while.

There I landed I part-time gig as a stringer for a weekly newspaper. The publisher liked my work and so, when another publisher called to ask if he knew a good young person looking for a reporter job, he recommended me.

I interviewed, got the offer, for a weekly paper in a town I had never heard of, and agonized over whether to accept: The job actually paid less than I was earning as a banquet set-up crew member at a hotel. A good friend told me, “You really have to take this job.” So I did. Where might I have been if I had stayed at the hotel? Banquet manager or something?

Moving on

Four years into my newspaper job I wanted a change. I answered an ad for news bureau director at a college in another state, was just about ideally qualified, and was invited for an interview. But while the college people dilly-dallied over scheduling the trip, my girlfriend had to decide whether to sign her next year’s contract as a teacher. We decided it was best if she did (bird in the hand and all that) and I had to forget the college job. Where might I be now if I had taken it?

I stayed in the news business for three more years, then went job shopping again and ended up with simultaneous offers, as a newsletter editor for an electric utility, and with a public relations agency as a team member on a clean-water utility’s public participation program for land application of biosolids.

With some trepidation I chose the latter; that’s how I got my first experience in this industry, and it’s a major reason I am here today. It turns out than many people in the water professions wound up here not through deliberate career planning but, by chance, out of the need for a steady job. And now they have great and rewarding careers. As do I.

Another decision

And as for that girlfriend I mentioned? Well, during my newspaper years I met her through a photography assignment, taking pictures for a preview of a modern dance show she was directing at the high school. That summer at a July 4 celebration I bumped into her in the beverage tent. She offered me a drink in gratitude for my photography. I accepted.

Forty-three years, a son and daughter, and two grandsons later, here we are. If I had turned down that drink, where would I be today?   


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