Which path to choose?

It’s been thirty years since I last visited Thunder Bay, Ontario.

I was eighteen then, and faced with probably the biggest decision of my young life up to that point – which university to choose?

After visiting the campus of Lakehead University, I stood ankle-deep in the clear Lake Superior water with the coolness of the lake air against my sun-warmed face, and reveled in the delicious smell of the evergreens surrounding me.

It was pure magic. The decision seemed easy.

With the excitement and natural apprehension of a teenager about to move away from home for the first time, I was confident that Lakehead was the right choice for me – and then, with the capricious nature of my youth, I turned a corner and walked a different path.

I stayed closer to home instead, matriculating at Ottawa University – a choice strongly encouraged by my mother – and graduated as a chemical engineer, with my sights set firmly on a move to Australia.

By that time, Thunder Bay, and the evergreen life I had imagined at 18, was a long-forgotten memory.

A lone pine at dusk, T-Bay, ON
A lone evergreen watching over Lake Superior

Thirty years later, driving east on Highway 11 back into Thunder Bay, I contemplated what decision I would have made had I not had encouragement to stay in Ottawa, and whether the choice that was made was really mine at all.

Sometimes, loyalty to our decisions can be easily swayed by those that we respect, love and trust – and on the flip-side, we must be cognizant of the impact that our opinions have over those who respect, love and trust us. We may inadvertently, with just a word of well-meaning advice, reset someone’s course onto a completely different tack than they had imagined for themselves.

We must be cognizant of our ability to sway the decisions of those who look up to us.

The northern side of Lake Superior remains as beautiful as my teenage memory had painted it. The city sprawls in a swirl of vibrant color from the magnificent emerald forests offset against purple rocks and bleached stone, all the way to the steely gunmetal lake below. The late-summer air smells clean and green, with just a touch of chill off the lake, hinting at the approaching autumn.

In addition to great coffee, Thunder Bay served me up a healthy dose of regret and nostalgia for a life that I never lived.

As I stood, ankle-deep in the clear water once again, a surprising pang of sadness washed over me for all of the experiences that I had never had, all of the memories that would never be mine.

Trying desperately to peer into how things could have been had I chosen to attend Lakehead University, it struck me – we don’t get to know! That’s the ultimate price we pay for the decisions we make. There can be no comparison between the lives we have made for ourselves, and the lives we might have lived.

The outcome of the paths left unwalked is obscured from our vision by the closed doors and the burnt bridges of the opportunities that we didn’t take. They’re the choices left unchosen.

If the grass would have been greener on the other side of the fence, we’ll never know it.

We can’t spend too much time looking back at those forks in the road, because they give no clues as to where they might have led. They have become part of our past, like dust on the road behind us.

Even if we do reverse-course, and go back to try the proverbial Door #2, the outcome may be completely different than if it had been our first choice. With each experience we encounter, with every lesson learned, we become different – there is no day that leaves us untouched.

Every day, we are faced with a number of choices. We will decide on one, and the cogs will turn, and the gears will shift, and some of the alternatives presented to us will be left on the shelf. They won’t get a chance to leave their mark on us, or on our lives.

We can’t change the past – but we can surely decide how we want our future to be, and choose the paths that will take us there.

Those choices can lead us in many directions, building our lives and creating who we are – and if we don’t like where we wind up, there is no sense in dwelling on regrets for the missed opportunities and the challenges faced – because MAKING A CHANGE is only one more choice away!