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 Contemplating the Big “What If”

What if I had chosen a different college …

What if I had / hadn’t gone to study abroad …

What if I hadn’t said “no” to that marriage proposal …

What if I had chosen a different job …


The possibilities of “WHAT IF” questions are endless…

We are where we are in life today because of the decisions we made along the way. We make decisions that propel us forward in life to a new place. Then, as we are in the midst of that experience, we continually make evaluations and judgments that help inform the next decision(s). A few of these judgments are conscious cognitive evaluations, but most of them happen unconsciously.

For example, when I was a college student, I wanted to expand my world and test my independence. I found an internship opportunity in New York City for one semester. While living and working in New York, I met people who were very different from me. I loved the exposure to such artists and intellectuals and I loved the influence that these people had on me. I also loved living in a big city. But somewhere deep inside and on a subconscious level, I knew that such a life was not really true to the authenticity at the core of who I am. While in New York, I had the opportunity to quit college and stay on, but I felt pressured by the social expectations of my background to graduate from college; I didn’t yet know that a dancer’s life in New York City wasn’t really what a wanted for my life. If I had chosen to stay, I wouldn’t have a college degree today, but I might have become a professional modern dancer. At the time, to become a professional dancer was my dream; to graduate from college was definitely NOT my dream. I succumbed to the pressures of society, but now, many years later, I realize that the decision was actually the best choice for me.

If I had stayed in New York, I wouldn’t have met my boyfriend who led me to Japan which introduced me to my husband who gave ne two beautiful children!

We can’t really imagine how different our lives would have turned out if we hadn’t made the choices we did, but it is important to look back and contemplate the big “What if…” questions. By reflecting in this way, we can better understand our current situations and we are better equipped with self-knowledge to make the right decisions in the future. By contemplating these “What if …” questions, we can become more grateful for our past experiences and more intentional about our lives today. Contemplating back over our lives isn’t about regret, but rather a self-reflective exercise that leads us to greater appreciation and thanksgiving. 

My time in New York greatly impacted my life; but so too, did the decision to leave. What decisions or moments in your life were great turning points? How might your life be different today if you had made a different choice at that time?


Propel = to be moved forward by some other force

Cognitive = the process of a working mind

Authenticity = the truest truth

Intentional = to be aware of choices; to understand why we do what we do

Impact = influence; powerful effect(s)


Teaching Conditionals for ESL

ESL Partyland: Find Out If

Printable Handout: Which Conditional

English Grammar: The Tenses

Past Perfect Progressive / Continuous

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