“What if…”: two powerful words, especially when leading off a sentence, that can you down uncharted mental roads and lead you to, and through, a maze of possible pathways and locations. I think nearly everyone, in their lifetime, has asked “what if…?” about something. Marvel Comics even came out with a seriesi called What If?, where the difference of one event could change the entire complexion of a character, story, or even a world.

On occasion, I will go introspective and ask “what if…?”, especially when life is trying its best to bean me with fastballs; it can make for some interesting viewing of possibilities.

Being that it is approaching 3 AM, and sleep still has not settled in, I am asking “what if…?” about some events in the relatively recent past:

What if I had found a way to Florida State in 1996? FSU was my first choice of colleges. However, I could not get down to Tallahassee to start the Fall ’96 semester (under ‘suspect’ parental reasons). If I had gotten there, would I have struggled with balancing money, job commitment(s), and school time as I did about a decade later at the University of Louisville? Would I have met any of the group of my current best friends? Would I have stayed in Florida after graduation?

What if I had stayed at Target in 2010? Perhaps the biggest mistake I have made in my working career – which might surprise a few back home – is quitting Target in September of 2010. I initially thought that I had a better paying job, with more hours, lined up. Instead, that company made an unexpected announcement that they were closing their doors… less than 2 weeks after I had left Target and days before my interview. I then spent the rest of 2010 searching for a job before returning to Target in January 2011, with a big pay cut. If I had stayed, could I have gotten a promotion down the road, instead of seeing hours dwindle? Would I still be there now?

What if I had called in to work on February 16th, 2010? If I had, I probably would have tried to sleep off the I’ll feelings, possibly going to the hospital the following morning. If that had happened, I may not have been here to write this blog (see the “Becoming The Cyborg, Part 1” post from a couple of months ago for an explanation). What if I had recognized the signs that something was seriously wrong a few days before – would I have needed such an extensive, major, and sudden surgery?

What if I had kept my phone on Vibrate on August 8th, 2005? 8/8/05 was Chemistry II Final in the early afternoon, Target that evening. Generally during exams, I kept my phone on vibrate but my Chem professor told the class to turn their phones completely off; this wasn’t a problem to me at all. After the exam, I turned my phone on and saw that my sister had called me 6 times, plus left a couple of messages. When I called her back, she told me that our Mom was being rushed to the hospital. She had died before I could get there. It took years before I turned my phone off while at work or school again. If I had kept it on, despite the professor’s orders, would I have made it to the hospital in time? (Yes, I would have taken a zero on that exam, to text my sister that I was on my way)

What if I had tried out for the Phantom Regiment Drum and Bugle Corps for the 1999 season, instead of the 2000 season? To shorten the explanation somewhat: Drum Corps International, where the Phantoms perform, has an age limit of 21 (you can turn 22 during the season, but you cannot be 22 at the start of it). I tried our when I was 21, although I didn’t make it. If I had tried out at 20, would I have made it? If not, would I have tried out for a “lower tiered” corps and gotten on board? Would I have tried for a corps on the all-age Drum Corps Associates circuit, instead? One thing I would have done was to take the experiences of Tryout Weekend (which were really good) plus the feedback received from the staff, worked my butt off, and tried in 2000, with hopefully better results.

Of course, there are the ‘common’ ones that a lot people have had, such as:
What if I had asked so-and-so out in high school or college (or wanted just a ‘casual’ time with them) ?
What if I had moved out on my own sooner? What if I had moved in with a roommate? What if I had moved away from my home town?
What if I had said this, instead of that, to whomever or about whatever?

The trick to “what ifs” is to not dwell on the millions of things that could have happened, letting “what ifs” overpower you. Sure, alternate outcomes may look rosier (for example, making a Drum Corps roster in ’99 or ’00). However, you wouldn’t have had the experiences, met the people you did, or learned from the successes and/or failures that have brought you up to today. So, I will occasionally indulge the “what ifs” that pop up in the mind, but I don’t let “what if…?” become “why me…?”.