The Events That Change Your Life April 25, 2007

The Events That Change Your Life

I’m on the verge of making a decision that could drastically change my life, at least for the next few months. These events happen to us every day, whether we notice them or not, but when we’re the ones making the choices, the results loom over us moreso than usual.

Because of the position I’m in, I’ve been thinking about the decisions I’ve made, and the good fortune that has come to me, in the past couple years (many of which revolve around the eBay auction). At the time, I didn’t always realize they would change my life as much as they did, but in hindsight, I have no idea where I’d be if things happened differently.

Here are some of the events that come to mind:

  • I decided to wait for the bus one day instead of walking the short distance back to my apartment. I ended up talking to a girl also waiting for the bus. Not long after, we began what would end up being a two year relationship.
  • I decided to leave medical school after a year to pursue a teaching career (and to spend more time working with atheist groups). Had I stayed, I’d currently be an M3, a year away from becoming a doctor. And I doubt I’d be doing any of the atheism work that I am doing. I don’t regret my decision at all.
  • I decided to put the eBay auction up on a lark.
  • Jim Henderson won the auction in the closing seconds. The partnership was more eventful and thought-provoking than anything I had anticipated. Had Jim not won, I probably would have gone to one church for an entire year and the writeups may have become dull rather quickly.
  • A journalist from the Wall Street Journal chose to write an article on Jim and me, giving our story national exposure.
  • I decided to say no to the first couple offers from companies looking to capitalize on the eBay auction. There were enticing offers that were hard to say no to, especially since there may not have been anything waiting in the wings.
  • One book offer came that I was excited about, but I knew I needed someone to look after me. After contacting a *lot* of lawyers who work in the literary field, and realizing there was no way I could afford any of them, I nearly said no to the deal. As a last resort, I contacted an agent that had approached me earlier and asked him if he had any advice. He introduced me to a literary agent who ended up representing me wonderfully and led to I Sold My Soul on eBay.
  • I started this blog last June. It’s been a thrill watching it grow. It has also given me a release to talk about atheism-related issues that would be difficult to discuss otherwise. In many ways, I feel like I’m more connected to other atheists through this site than through working with many of the national secular organizations

This is far from a complete list. But I’m certain that if any of those events had not happened, my life would be very different as a result. Obviously, there are dozens of minor things that happened to change the course of my recent history and I haven’t figured out their significance just yet. Still, the ones I mentioned stand out to me.

I know there are many religious people who would chalk up this series of events as part of God’s plan. I don’t buy that. My life would just be somewhere else right now without all those things happening. That could be good or bad. But this is the path I ended up taking. Hopefully, the decision I make in the next couple days will lead me in a good direction, too.

It would be interesting to hear what events have reshaped your life and turned it in a completely new direction. What were the big decisions you made? What events did you not think would be a big deal, but ended up changing everything?

[tags]atheist, atheism, medical school, M3, doctor, eBay, Jim Henderson, Wall Street Journal, I Sold My Soul on eBay, God[/tags]

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  • Very nice post.

    I took a few days off work last month, just thinking I’d chill out and catch up on some sleep. Ended up catching an advert on a Psychic TV channel that inspired me to write the first post of the blog I started that day.

    Also, when I was 18 and looking for a summer job, I had to choose between a factory job nearby or an office job further away. I took the office job, and ended up meeting someone who would become one of my best friends and lead to me becoming an atheist.

  • You are SUCH A TEASE, writing a post like this while clearly avoiding telling us what your current decision revolves around. Just so you know.

  • Yeah what mollishka said! I’m just saying…

  • Richard Wade

    Hemant, you would like the movie “Sliding Doors” showing how tiny events in our lives can result in very important differences. If you haven’t seen it, rent it.

    Our lives are influenced both by the big conscious decisions we make as well as the random events that we may never be aware of. We tend to focus on the conscious, self-defining moments in our lives, because it makes us feel more powerful and in control. But a disconcertingly large portion of the paths we end up taking are dictated by small pebbles under our feet. I’ll share one of each.

    The random one: My college roommate off-handedly invited me on a blind date. His girlfriend and her roommate whom I had never met were going to cook dinner. My roommate’s suggestion was whimsical, and my taking him up on it was whimsical. I had nothing better to do that night. That dinner initiated an uninterrupted 37 years with the most remarkable woman I have ever known, and probably ever will. It was the luckiest moment in my life.

    The random and chosen one: My dad was in the hospital with alcoholic cirrhosis. I went to my psychopathology class and the lecture featured the early stages of alcoholism. In the middle of class I suddenly saw that my own behavior was on a continuum that would inexorably lead to the same hospital bed where my dad was lying. That lecture initiated an uninterrupted 25 years of sobriety. I doubt that I would be alive today if I had continued on my previous path. Sparked by a random conjunction of events, I consciously made an important decision. It was the wisest moment in my life.

    Without the comforting explanation of God’s intervention, we have to face the reality that even our most deliberate decisions are brought before us at least in part by mindless chance, following chaotic chains of cause and effect. For me, I can still feel great gratitude for the outcomes of my life, even though I don’t express that gratitude to a divine source of my good fortune.

  • Vincent

    The biggest life-altering event to me was based on a mathematical error.

    I spent the first 3 years of college in 1 major then completely switched from sciences to humanities. When adding up the credits to see when I’d have enough to graduate I figured I needed 4 more semesters.
    Here’s the math error: I actually could have finished in 3 and considering the money/tuition situation, would have done so.

    But, due to my math mistake I pulled one more semester.

    During that semester I started dating the woman to whom I have been happily married for the past 10 years.

  • anti-nonsense

    Hmmm? Life changing choices?

    Well, I’ve made a couple of choices recently that may end up changing my life. I signed up for an ecology course at the college I attend, and I also watched Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. I actually did the former before I did the latter, because of something I saw in my biology textbook while studying for my final exam in General Biology II, and also because it was the only biology course avialible during the summer semester, but doing the latter has made me even more sure that ecology is important, I am currently planning on going into microbiology and biochemistry but who knows, maybe the movie and the ecology course will change my mind and divert my path down a completely different road I never would have considered taking previously.

  • I’ve gotta say that the decision to start using a blog aggregator has, in a matter of weeks, made me feel much more connected to “atheist thought” than I did before–despite being the chief executive of an international naturalist non-profit. Quite a thing this blogosphere.

    Anyhow, I’ve been going over my life and I’m having trouble coming up with “sliding doors” moments around which that the rest of my life has pivoted. I can’t help but wonder if this has more to do with a metaphor I was given as a teenager by one of my father’s friends than any actual difference in my life (okay, maybe being given this metaphor is one of those moments).

    Anyhow, my father’s friend told me that there are two kinds of fear. There is the kind of fear that gets you out of the way of the speeding bus (he said “gets you out of the way of the charging water buffalo” if you like that imagery better). This is simple “fight or flight” fear. Then there is the kind of fear that you have to follow right to its source–and if you do, it will lead you to your greatness.

    Okay, it’s kind of granola. But I have to say that it has given me the courage to take the many “leaps of faith” that I’ve taken that have helped me get where I am-presenting at the Cognitive Science Society as an undergrad after the first two authors couldn’t make it, taking on an executive director position with no salary, quiting my fairly well paying programming job to take on the ED position full-time when we were finally able to pay a meager salary, remaining silent after saying “would you consider a pledge of $5,000 this year?” Clearly lots of people do more courageous things without my silly metaphor–indeed, I think Hemant already has. But thinking about fear in this way has really helped me make big decisions in my life. Perhaps it’ll be useful to you, too.

  • I don’t think anything I have done with the intention of having a life changing moment has worked. Things which have changed my life appear so accidental, not intentional. When I saw you in MN, I wondered if you had any clue you would be where you are now, even as soon as a year ago. I know for me, it’s hard to think five years ago, imagining I’d be where I am today, doing the things I’ve been lucky enough to do. But, I guess I’m not the kind of person who has a dedicated goal, and strives for it, but slide into things I like, and good things have come from that.

  • Karen

    But, I guess I’m not the kind of person who has a dedicated goal, and strives for it, but slide into things I like, and good things have come from that.

    I’m exactly the same way and it’s worked out well so far, despite all the self-help gurus who tell you that you must set goals, strive for them, update them every so often, etc.

    I think what’s helped me in life is that I’m eager to take (reasonable, thought-out) chances when they arise, I’m curious and I’m a natural optimist. Everything else has pretty much followed from those traits.

    In terms of thinking that life’s events are scripted by a deity, that falls apart with the least bit of scrutiny. For instance, through a series of happenstances, I turned onto a busy residential street a couple days ago that I almost never drive on. There, I discovered a toddler standing in the middle of the road, unattended. I pulled into his driveway, noticed his backyard gate was open, collected him and knocked on the front door. His mother answered, dismayed to see him, and nearly in tears when I told her he’d been standing in the road (this is on a wicked blind turn).

    So, through a bunch of coincidences, I was in the right place at the right time. If I hadn’t driven past at that moment, another car may well have flattened him 30 seconds later. God’s providence?

    It might sound that way to a congregation willing to suspend disbelief if I got up on Sunday and “testified.” But what about the couple in the audience whose own child was struck and killed by a car last year, or 10 years ago, or 50 years ago? Why wasn’t god protecting that child? It’s hurtful and makes no sense to try and ascribe good things to god’s will if we can’t also do the same with bad things.

    By the way, I believe there’s another Karen posting here recently (hi Karen!). I’m the Original Karen from the OTM DB and CaTE.

  • “I don’t know if Momma was right or if, if it’s Lieutenant Dan. I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.”

  • Robin

    When I left my husband. I took responsibility for my life. I won’t go into the details but it certainly was a life changing event and definitely for the positive.

  • Randomgirl

    My bf waited until the last day to pick his courses. By doing this he ended in the same slot of myth magic and shamanish as me. We both took it on a whim because it sounded interesting. He helped me through a breakup with my ex and now me and him have been together for 6 months as of may 12th.

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