In the 1998 movie “Sliding Doors” the films protagonist, Helen, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, rushes to catch a train before the sliding doors close. From that point the movie splits into two parallel storylines. In one storyline, Helen was able to jump on the train in time. In the other storyline, the doors close and Helen misses her train. The rest of the film shows us Helens life in each of the storylines. It’s a bit gimmicky, but still an interesting premise. That is where my head has been this week. What about all the “sliding doors” in my life? “What if” I had done some things differently? Sure, I have some regrets, but that is not what the list below about. This is all about curiosity. It’s a list of decisions I made and I wonder what my life would have been like had I reacted differently.
When I was 18 I met a young woman on her last day in North Carolina. She was leaving to go work at the Grand Hotel on Mackinaw Island in upper Michigan. She told me that the islands busy season was starting and assured me I’d be hired immediately if I went along. I decided to quit my job and meet her the next morning. That evening responsibility got the best of me. I couldn’t just stop showing up for work. I couldn’t go off with a stranger with the hope that I’d get a job. I was a no show the next morning and never heard from her again.
What if I had taken off to Mackinaw Island?
I loved Boston. I loved everything about it. The city, its people, its weather. I couldn’t wait to move there…even though I had never seen it. I decided I was going to move and attend Boston College. I vacationed there for a week and it was everything I dreamed it’d be and more, but, I never moved. I decided it would be too expensive and that I should stay in North Carolina.
What if I had moved to Boston?
Instead of Boston I began attending our local community college. My plan was to transfer to a four-year school and major in elementary education. For reasons I don’t remember, I quit school and joined the work force.
What if I had stayed in school?
One summer my dad rented a beach house for the entire family. During this vacation I had a discussion with the housekeeper my dad hired. Her husband was a shrimp fisherman and he was short one man on his boat. As far as she was concerned, the job was mine. There was no pay other than a percentage of the take, so it was a risky but exciting venture. I stopped thinking about the exciting adventure and my mind focused on the possibility of earning very little money.
What if I had joined the shrimp boat crew?
When I was 20, I was at my favorite vacation destination, Ocracoke Island, North Carolina. I met the owner of a sandwich shop who was selling the business. She was moving because her daughter was unhappy living on an island with only one-thousand full time residents. We talked at great length and I decided it was a great opportunity. Just as we were reaching the point of making it deal, I backed out. I asked myself if a young man in his early 20’s would be happy on a tiny island.
What if I Had bought the shop in Ocracoke?
Sometime during the mid-1980’s I began working for Marriott Hotels. I worked as a bellman, a reservation agent, a front desk clerk and as a switchboard operator. After working there for about five years I decided it was time to leave North Carolina. But where would I go? Boston was still an option. I loved visiting Atlanta, so that was another option. There was even the Maui Marriott, which I thought of as a possibility. Where did I end up transferring? For some ungodly reason, I chose to move to Omaha Nebraska. I honestly have no idea what I was thinking. It did turn out to be a great opportunity. I worked at Marriott’s Worldwide Reservation Center and it was a kick start to a 16 year career in the hotel industry.
What if I had stayed in North Carolina?
After 16 years with Marriott, I became disillusioned with the service industry and gave notice that I was leaving. Before I left I was hired by a hotel franchise company in Southern California. I know, I know, I wanted to leave the service industry and wound up right back in it. I also happened to be dating a guy in Los Angeles. I left the Marriott office in Northern California, where I was working at the time, and moved my ass down to L.A. Had I stayed with Marriott I would have worked for them for about 30 years now.
What if I had stayed with Marriott?
About 9 years ago I was having fun dating a few guys with no desire to enter a relationship. One night, while in a chatroom, I received a simple message that said “hello,” I responded back and we agreed to meet at Starbucks for coffee. Once the man arrived, I convinced him we should go to the beach. There was a beautiful full moon and we sat in the sand and talked for 5 hours. As he likes to say, we talked for 5 hours and haven’t stop talking since. 7 years ago we married and I never imagined I could have such a wonderful and loving husband as Maurice.
What if I didn’t respond to Maurice’s Chat Message?
These examples are just a small sampling of the “what ifs” in my head. Looking back I can see I always played it safe. I didn’t take the risks even though many of them would have been an exciting adventure. I missed opportunities that could have been great fun…then I bring myself back to reality. What if I bought that sandwich shop? What if I had worked on a shrimp boat? I would likely have a vastly different life than I do now. I wouldn’t have a beautiful daughter. I wouldn’t have a wonderful man like Maurice. I wouldn’t have the amazing friends that I have today.
I think the “what ifs” will always be there, but I’m wise enough to let myself visit them, but not regret them. I feel blessed that I was able to catch all the sliding doors in my life and those trains have brought me exactly where I need to be. Right here. Right now.
22 comments on What If
Great essay, Brad.
Thank you, Teri
Loved reading your insights.!
Thank you. Btw, I noticed you and I posted the same title today. Sorry about that.
Nothing to be sorry about. Great minds think alike. Ok so maybe not totally alike but we did start in the same place!
cannot tell you how great this post is. all things lead to the here and now, right where we are to be.
It’s a very Buddhist concept. I must admit I don’t always accept that, but when I do it makes my life much easier. Thank you, kat
I am very grateful for all the sliding doors that each of us has taken (or missed), as they all lead us to each other!
Awww that’s very sweet. Incredibly sappy, but sweet. Thank you.
I must convey this is perhaps one of the best blog posts I have read since I have been blogging (2007), and I have read many tens of thousands. The perplexing “What if” questions can whittle away at us, when we look back. They make us pause to wonder.
This was beautifully expressed. I really related to this topic and believe me … you made the right choices because of where you are today … right now. Hugs from The East Coast!
Wow, Theresa, I am speechless. Thank you very much. I’m honored
Bradley, I’m a big believer in the “life is what you make it” theory. Of course chance plays an enormous role in our lives. If I hadn’t been in a certain place at a certain time, I would never have met my wife or had the daughter I have or been living where I live now. Still, I believe I’d always have been the same lazy, happy person in love with life, because that’s the person I want to be and am.
I agree. That’s why we shouldn’t wallow in the what if’s. I’m a firm believer that where you are is exactly should be. It’s all about acceptance.
Anazing essay 🙂
Wow. Thank you Marc-Andre
Ooops that was meant to be amazing haha xD
Thank you for this post. It is beautifully expressed. And your thoughts brought you to a positive and right conclusion. I have done the “what-ifs” as well and find I ponder some pains and regrets for too long so it becomes unhealthy for me. Rather, I have learned I need to look at how wonderfully things have turned out without looking back at the past. I am happy you’ve found joy, Bradley.
🙂 Your comments always make me feel better.
Great essay Brad! Gla your sliding doors led you here!
I’m glad too, my friend
Wowza, look at all these comments! Your blog is really having a growth spurt! Congratulations on that!
First of all, I loved that movie and I loved how you incorporated it into your blog. You had a lot of interesting “what ifs” and its amazing how different your life could have been. Of course now you have the best thing ever, Maurice, and I know you would gladly give all of those things up for him. True love…ain’t it grand? 🙂
I have to remind myself nearly every day how good life is, especially when I’m in the midst of despair when depression hits.
I have had a growth spurt. Its exciting.