Are you the right you?

In reading biographies of those who are successful, massively successful, famously successful, or world-changing, it seems that there is always one or two absolutely critical but highly unlikely events that led to that success. A chance meeting of the right person, getting or missing a train/flight/boat, getting or missing a life-changing injury, etc. Having started this train of thought, I’m absolutely stuck for an example but we all know figures whose entire meaningful career and life stem from such an improbable event. A good setting for the reverse is to look at the many brilliant and promising people - young scientists, mathematicians, artists, writers - who did not survive World War II. Maybe if that bullet or bomb had missed them, they would have become world-changers. Fictional examples abound; in Finney’s Time And Again, the hero changes his normal future by blocking a trivial encounter in 1880s New York.

So… are you you, or are you an alternate universe you that stopped to tie your shoe and thus missed running into your great mentor, or didn’t walk into the wrong meeting at the right time, or whatever your life-changing break was supposed to be?

In one of the Philip Seymour Hoffman threads currently going someone cites a post from an old thread, in which someone who went to high school with him remembers that he was a football player but was injured, so joined the drama club instead. I guess that’s the kind of moment you’re looking for.

For myself, I feel like I could do great things but haven’t figure out exactly what or how. I don’t know if I really would, given exactly the right circumstances. I’ve certainly had plenty of time and freedom to get it figured out, and haven’t.

I was about 24 years old and truck shop foreman at a large company. I was called away from the shop for a meeting with the CEO, Vice president and a few others. I didn’t know it but was going to get a surprise promotion to Fleet and Operations manager which would have more than doubled my wage. While waiting for the meeting to start I sneezed and through my back completely out for the first time in my life. I was off work for two weeks and never heard another word about the promotion. It was a few years later that I found out what the meeting was about.

I’ve always had the nagging suspicion that I was born into old money and that my life was meant to be lived in the lap of luxury, surrounded by the type of excess that few people truly experience. Alas, I must have been switched at birth and thus have been forced to spend my life in the purgatory of this wretched middle class existence.

Me too! I blame my parents…

I have a brother?!? :eek:

OP, perhaps an analogy would be a professional football game. If it a close game the result is often attributed to one specific event: a referee’s bad call, an interception, a brilliant pass reception…

Yet there are 120 to 140 plays between the two teams combined, each of which could have had a different result.

So when you say: “one or two absolutely critical but highly unlikely events that led to that success” you are saying exactly the same thing. So how do you feel about football game results–the one big event or the cumulative effect of dozens of plays? I think it is the latter, just as I think that even though HoneyBadger didn’t get that promotion that some years later he probably ended up in as good as job as if he had.

I’ve often said that I was born to live in the tropics and I blame my parents for switching me at birth and leaving me stuck in Canada the frigid. I vacation in Las Vegas in July for gods sake, this is not my proper environment.

I kind of feel that those life-changing events are not quite as life-changing as we would make them out to be, but I’m not sure of the best way to phrase that. Maybe I’d fall back on a saying like “Luck is one part patience and three parts preparation.” The exact timing of the chance event may vary, but if you’re truly an exceptional person, I really think you’re going to find some chance event.

Stephen King actually did a test of sorts regarding this. He wrote several novels under the name Richard Bachman to see how well they did. In other words, could he become a world-famous best-selling author again, or was it all just luck? Those four novels sold a little better than an average paperback, but certainly not near best-seller range… and then someone figured out it was Stephen King in disguise and the books sold like crazy and were turned into movies (The Running Man). So it’s an inconclusive test, but it kind of supports my viewpoint - the exact timing and nature of your big break might vary, but if you’re the kind of person who that level of talent, determination, etc. then you’re likely to get that break eventually.

There’s a book called *Carlisle vs. Army *which examines the impact that football game, played in 1912, had on the people involved. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve heard the author, Lars Anderson, talk about it.

During the game, a promising football player for Army was tackled by the Carlisle star Jim Thorpe. The Army player was injured, and in fact was hurt so severely that he could no longer play football. As a result, he joined the pep squad and became interested in debating, which he later credited with the success he had in life.

His name was Dwight Eisenhower.

Not yet. Looking back I can see where I sometimes missed out but serendipity has always played a large part in my life. There’s still time for surprises.

That’s exactly the kind of life-changing incident I mean. And I remember reading that story when I was just a kid, and being dazzled by the wheels-within-wheels of it.

If only Hitler had been accepted into that art school…


At last I’ve found my soul mate, this could be the chance encounter the OP is talking about . . .

There was a chance meeting between a young Bob Woodward and a man named Mark Felt. Would the Watergate burglary have led to Nixon’s resignation without Felt’s information?

Pssst. That sneeze saved your life. In the timeline where you got the promotion, you were killed in a freak trucking accident just a few weeks later.

Almost everything significant I have had happen to me in my life happened by raw chance. I am hard working in general but the biggest things always just came from nowhere. I didn’t know where I wanted to go to college until someone just gave me a full-ride scholarship to a private university partially because they didn’t have anyone to give it to that year and they happened to be over at my house when the topic came up. I got my ex-wife just by leaving my door room door unlocked one night and she stumbled back to the same dorm one night and wanted someone to talk to. I woke up with her in my bed. I even got the job I have now just by answering the phone one morning.

I got into a fight with my little brother on the phone the night before and I was so pissed that I couldn’t sleep so I filled the time by updating my resume. At 8:30 am, a couple of hours after I managed to fall asleep, the phone rang and I got offered a great job on the spot after a cursory phone interview. I have been there since and I didn’t even know anyone that ever worked there.

My life is dictated the same way that Forrest Gump’s is. I just sit back and eat whatever chocolate is in the box and keep an eye on the feather in the wind.

Yes, I often wonder how my life would have been different if this hadn’t happened. Then again, I was as ripe for a huge paradigm change (call it what you will) as I would ever be, and if that hadn’t happened, I feel something else undoubtedly would have (I’ve seen numerous bald eagles in that yard, and they probably would have done the trick too).

But for my high school English teacher, I might never have gone to college or attained any significant amount of mental and financial independence from my controlling mother. So I think I’m the right me. The only real way I’d have had a better chance at success if both my parents had died in a car crash when I was a baby and I got adopted by a kind, loving family.

I don’t remember if he played football, but wrestling was his big sport. A teacher suggested the drama thing. (He also skied recreationally back then. Just remembering that because of something someone I know posted about him.) What if the teacher had suggested the chess club?

If it wasn’t for my horse, I wouldn’t have spent that year in college.