Write a short story based on a moment in your life that imagines what would have happened if you had made a different choice at that moment. For example, what if you hadn’t taken that job? What if you hadn’t said “yes” to the marriage proposal? If you can, share a little about the moment that inspired you to write the story.
This assignment ended up being a lot harder than I anticipated. In trying to think of a key moment and what the alternatives might have been if I’d made a different decision, I realized that to justify the big decisions of my life, I’ve always envisioned what the consequences would be if I didn’t take a certain action. For the most part, I’ve imagined doom and gloom—a future filled with sadness and tragedy. Perhaps this tendency is a way to help myself feel good about making tough decisions. Or, like my mom always said, I’m extremely melodramatic.
However, I do think that when a person is faced with a life-changing decision, it does help to visualize the consequences of each action to figure out what your choice should be. And having the choice you didn’t select end up being a “doom and gloom” scenario is a good way to justify your choices to yourself. Here are a few examples of how this type of thinking worked for me.
- Moment of Truth 1: Should I tell my first husband I want a divorce? (Yes, I was married before. It was a youthful mistake.) I chose to tell him I needed out of the marriage.
In the months leading up to making this decision, I envisioned my future in the marriage many, many times and it always ended up the same way: unhappiness, childlessness, endless hours working at a job I hated to make ends meet, bitter resentment at his drinking and inability to grow-up, a seething hatred of certain members of his family.
- Moment of Truth 2: Should I move in with the guy I was “in love” during my sophomore year of college? The night before I was going to move in with him, about 10 girls from my dorm rallied and took turns telling me why I was making a huge mistake—that this guy was nothing but trouble. (Turns out, they were 100% correct.) As a last-ditch effort to persuade me, my parents threatened to disown me. In the end, I became convinced it was a mistake, and I didn’t move in with him.
In imagining my alternate reality where I did move in with him, I now see: accidental pregnancy, abandonment by the father, dropping out of college, a giving up a dreams, a return home in shame, single motherhood at a young age, and a lifetime of resentment and bitterness. (It is a credit to my parents, that in all my imaginings of this scenario, I never doubted that I would be able to return home with this “accidental” child.)
To be honest, I don’t think I have the energy or skill right now to reimagine a true key turning point in my life. So I decided to go with a more mundane moment: What if I’d never quit those fencing lessons I took for a few weeks?
Disclaimer: Before I actually looked it up, I had it in my head that the actress Geena Davis had made it to the Olympics in fencing. Turns out it was archery, and she almost got to the Olympics but didn’t make the final team. But since I am imagining this, I’ve taken liberties with both my possible future and Geena Davis’s possible future. So, forgive me, Ms. Davis. I’ve switched your sport and had you make it to the Olympics—where you and I are battling it out for the gold! Also, I took a fencing class once for about 4 weeks and know next to nothing about the sport or the terminology. So if you are a hard-core fencer, realize this is totally made-up, poorly researched and wildly inaccurate.
The Women’s Épée Individual Finals
Two Americans stand alone—ready to battle it out for the gold medal. The match is difficult to call—a statuesque beauty new to the sport versus the petite powerhouse who’d trained for years but was hampered by a string of recent injuries.
Geena Davis—Oscar winner, actress and talented fencer—paces and feints as she waits for the match to begin. New to the sport, she’d rocketed to the top of the field within the last two years, and it had helped secure her a role in the upcoming film, Pirates of the Caribbean.
Jenners—small-time blogger but long-time fencer—sits calmly, imagining her parries and thrusts. Her hamstring is bothering her, as it has since she’d faced Hungarian Timea Nagy at the World Championship this past winter. But she won’t let it bother her today—not with a shot at the gold on the line.
The match begins. Davis uses her height advantage to strike a series of hits but Jenners is prepared and wily—she parries and evades and scores several hits. Davis regroups and attempts a counterattack, but Jenners is too quick. Hit. Hit. Parry. Parry. Thrust. Counterattack. It becomes a blur as the two battle it out. But in the end it is decisive: Jenners has won. She is the gold medalist.
And although fencing is not a marquee sport, Jenners is the first American woman to ever win a gold in fencing so America sits up and takes notice. She begins a whirlwind media tour and it dubbed “Fencing Jenny.” Beloved by millions, she parlays her new fame into a lucrative sponsorship deal with Dove Chocolates. Alas, her unlimited supply of Dove leads to excessive weight gain and she fades from the spotlight within a year. She sits alone—polishing her medal and reliving the glory days, always careful to boycott any film showing Geena Davis and sword play.
And that reminds me, I thought of a visual for another what if scenario and thought you might get a chuckle out of it. I present the answer to: What if I actually kept up with good eating and exercise like I always vow to do every few months?
So what was your “what if” scenario? What did you end up doing in your alternate universe? I can’t wait to find out! Use Mr. Linky below to link up your posts. I’ll leave this post up all weekend and Monday to give you a chance to read each other’s posts and post your own contribution. Thanks for playing along!