There are days that define your story beyond your life.
You have the obvious ones—graduations, marriages, births, deaths. Defining as these may be, the moments of quiet courage, cowardly silence, decisive change, or bold risk taking may be more life-altering, though less obvious to the casual observer. Most life-altering events occur not only without the knowledge of causally interested friends and family, but also unbeknownst to you, the main character of your story.
Growing up, I dreamed of playing in the high school marching band. I joined the band during my sophomore year and was a dedicated member of the mellophone section. We placed fifth in our regional competition, frankly a shattering disappointment. I was primed to take up a leadership position and continue my ascent into the Davis High School band hall of fame. I was a dedicated mellophone and French horn player, and at one point I aspired to play professionally.
The highest award that you can earn in the Davis High band program is the Excellence in Music Award, which involves passing off scales, scoring high on exams, and earning a certain amount of points through participation in marching band and other solo competitions. I was dead set on earning that award.
There was one small detail that ended up changing my trajectory. Along with being introduced to marching band, I was introduced to Ultimate Frisbee and business.
Logically, marching band and Frisbee can coexist—band is in the fall and Ultimate is in the spring. However, the more I played, the more I was drawn in by the sport (despite two serious injuries). Additionally, I was captivated by business concepts and committed to starting a company (it was called TravelBook and it almost worked). By my junior year, I had changed from an enthusiastic marching band player to a malcontent who begrudgingly was still dedicated and quite good at marching and playing the mellophone. We placed worse that year than my sophomore year, which, compounded with several other factors, led me to quit marching band (but not concert band) by my senior year.
By the end of the first semester of my senior year, I quit band all together, closing a chapter in the book of my life that my younger self expected to go on for several more years. I stopped playing the French horn and lost many of the relationships that I had with my fellow band students.
The Excellence in Music Award was given out last night and I obviously didn’t get it.
There were big turning points that led me to quit band, but my story was riddled with smaller decisions that led me to go down a different path—deciding to not practice the horn, to be disengaged during class, to focus on Ultimate Frisbee, to devote time and thought to starting a company. The opportunity costs of small decisions was far greater than I estimated them be.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not wish to change the course my life has taken. I love where I’m going and I’m excited about the opportunities that I have. I simply wish to highlight the importance of choices. Decisions, whether good or bad, lead to corresponding consequences and often very different paths.
Dieter Uchtdorf illustrates the principle in this story:
In 1979 a large passenger jet with 257 people on board left New Zealand for a sightseeing flight to Antarctica and back. Unknown to the pilots, however, someone had modified the flight coordinates by a mere two degrees. This error placed the aircraft 28 miles (45 km) to the east of where the pilots assumed they were. As they approached Antarctica, the pilots descended to a lower altitude to give the passengers a better look at the landscape. Although both were experienced pilots, neither had made this particular flight before, and they had no way of knowing that the incorrect coordinates had placed them directly in the path of Mount Erebus, an active volcano that rises from the frozen landscape to a height of more than 12,000 feet (3,700 m).
As the pilots flew onward, the white of the snow and ice covering the volcano blended with the white of the clouds above, making it appear as though they were flying over flat ground. By the time the instruments sounded the warning that the ground was rising fast toward them, it was too late. The airplane crashed into the side of the volcano, killing everyone on board.
It was a terrible tragedy brought on by a minor error—a matter of only a few degrees. (“A Matter of a Few Degrees,” April 2008 General Conference)
The impact of one decision can facilitate or negate other decisions down the road. the important thing is to strive to consistently make the right decisions and set yourself on the right path. Choosing between two good paths is often more defining than choosing a good path over a bad one because there is no wrong answer. The end result will be two different, and not always equal, returns on investment.