Every choice you make means millions of paths not taken.
Big or small, your decisions ripple outward, impacting everything else you do. The opportunities and experiences you leave behind in favor of others have their own sort of impact, as well: by not coming to fruition, they become ‘what if’s’ and ‘could have beens.’ It’s amazing how much non-events can sway actual ones.
I like to imagine what might have happened, had I made different choices than I ended up making. If I’d stuck with painting rather than becoming a designer. If I’d stubbornly clung to my first business, rather than shuttering it to focus on new projects. If I’d continued dating someone after it was clear we needed to bring our relationship to a close.
This kind of extrapolation is a wonderful mental exercise, and it can help you make well thought out decisions in the future. Rather than basing your choices purely on momentary concerns, you become more adept at thinking about the repercussions of each option and adding that figure to the sums of any other equations you might take into consideration. It’s impossible to know whether or not this actually leads to better decisions, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
Every choice you make means millions of paths not taken, but that doesn’t mean you can’t meander from path to path a bit, checking out the scenery and peeking over hills, getting a sense of the area before choosing which way to walk. You can saunter down one path and then carve your way through the trees to find another, if you like. Opportunity costs mean you choose one direction over another, but it doesn’t mean you stay that course forever. Some of the best routes — the most efficient, scenic, or the ones that will give you the best workout — are actually made up of many different foot paths, trails, and paved roads.
There’s no map that tells you exactly which direction to go, or when, but if you get comfortable weaving between the well-worn and the untread, you can draw your own map and share it with the world, making someone else’s costs more bearable, and your own well-spent.
Update: April 6, 2017
That last part is something I think about a lot: how valuable it is to leave markers for other people who wish to take similar paths as you. And this is especially true when your path is one that’s seldom taken, or which has never been taken before. You don’t have to do this, but it’s nice to, as it results in a rough guide that’s potentially immensely valuable to someone.