Our lives involve a series of choices: to go to college or not, where to go to college or work, where to live, with whom to live, and later to make changes or not, and so on. Yet, even as we make these choices along life’s path, we do so within a context of the circumstances of chance. No matter how much we plan our lives, the reality is that many impromptu situations play a big role in how we actually live.
There are social forces at work that propel us toward our choices. Because we go to this school or that job (also the result of other influences), we meet people that we otherwise would likely never have met. They become our friends and/or lovers, or perhaps introduce us to others who will have an influence on our lives. Also, we might just happen to be at some place on a day and time when someone or something inspires and motivates us to take certain actions that open a new chapter in our lives. If we had not been there then, that chapter would not have begun. Instead, another chapter influenced by a different impetus would have been part of our biography.
As we get older and look back on the lives we led, we can recognize certain defining moments in which unplanned opportunities and/or events presented themselves and we responded to them. As Robert Frost said in his poem about two paths diverging in a wood and taking one of them, what we did “has made all the difference.”
For me, one defining moment occurred at Rutgers University, when I began my doctoral studies. The course I really wanted to take was not available and my advisor suggested a sociology course as an elective. My other degree programs in business administration and English had no room for such a course and I wasn’t sure what to expect. My professor, Donald Halsted, was so inspiring that he opened my mind to an exciting discipline and fired up my imagination.
I soon chose sociology as my major, having to take six extra courses to offset my background deficiency, but it was worth it. I began a journey along a different career path and have never regretted that “accidental” choice. Without question, my subsequent research, writings, and assignments abroad—including a Fulbright residency in the Czech Republic and recent field research in Albania, Bosnia, and Kazakhstan—would never have occurred if I that original course had been available, or if I had taken a different replacement course, or if Prof. Halsted had not been such an inspiration. I have no doubt in my mind that Guardians of the Gate would never have been written if my plans had not been disrupted by unintended events.
Your biography is different, of course, but I’m confident you have your own unplanned, defining moments that shaped (and will further shape) your life as well.