What are you doing right now? Well, obviously reading this article, I suppose. But look around. Who are the people around you? Or are you alone? What are you wearing? What were you doing an hour ago? Two hours ago? Maybe it was something big. Or perhaps it was extremely unimportant and irrelevant. Two hours ago, I believe that I was eating cereal. But I invite you to think about the idea that every choice you’ve ever made in your life, everything that you’ve ever done or that has happened to you, whether it was in your control or not, has led you to this very moment. And if even one of those things had changed, this moment could be different. Maybe you’d be wearing different pants. Or in an entirely different building or outdoor seating area. Maybe not even in the same state or at the same school. And the thought of this, essentially the butterfly effect, completely baffles me.
The idea of this effect is rooted in the following quote. “It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world.” Obviously this is an exaggeration, and I don’t really believe that if you’ve ever accidentally harmed, caught or influenced a butterfly’s life in any way that you’ve caused a natural disaster elsewhere. But still, at its core, this quote suggests that a small change in one place could lead to a larger change in another. As to the truth of this, I am unsure, but on a smaller scale, and considered relative to an individual’s life rather than an entire world, the same idea is enough to make my head spin.
Sometimes it’s not even within your control. I mean, think about the housing draw, especially for incoming freshmen. I received some random number that decided at what point my ranked preferences would be considered amongst everyone else’s. I mean, I was lucky enough to get my first choice, but what if I was on the cusp of my first choice? What if my number had just been a little bit higher, and I had gotten my second, or third or last? What if someone decided to place me in Rinconada, but what if they hadn’t? What if I had just been switched at the last minute with someone else? I would have entirely different friends, entirely different memories and, currently, an entirely different life. And who knows how every choice I’ve made this year will affect the rest of my life, and how the people that I’ve met this year have affected those choices. Would I know different people in my freshman dorm, make different choices during my freshman year and have a different life 20 years from now? Maybe.
We live our everyday lives pretty normally, occasionally falling into the category of “mundane.” But even the smallest of events and the smallest of decisions could be putting us in exactly the right place at the right time. What if there was a day last summer where my dog kept jumping on my legs, and so I lingered a few seconds to pet him before leaving? Maybe I would have also dropped my keys while trying to lock my door on the way out, and I would have taken a few more seconds to let out a big sigh and bend down to get them. Maybe I would have happened to be almost out of gas and would have had to take the time to stop by the gas station. And maybe, in this scenario, all of those things saved me from a car accident. I never would have known. And maybe there have been days like that.
Sure, these are all hypothetical, “what if” situations. But I love thinking about them. Wherever you are right now and whatever you’re doing, you’re there for a reason. So many things could have been different in your life that could have led to you being anywhere else, doing anything else. Whether it’s evident right now or not, there’s some reason for your current state of being. Embrace it.
Contact Kassidy Kelley at kckelley ‘at’ stanford.edu.