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Do Life's Turning Points Make a Difference?

Think back to your own life. Are there experiences that stand out as critical turning points for you; incidents you think of as life-changing incidents? Then, taking those incidents, consider what might have been if they didn't happen?
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The idea of turning points in our lives is a powerful one. It's the idea that at a certain point, a big event happens that changes your life irrevocably. Meeting a mentor leads to a new career; a chance encounter at a café leads to a marriage proposal; an accident shatters one's dreams to be an athlete and leads to a new path in life. There are even mental health organizations with Turning Point in their name that consider a "turning point" as what's needed to overcome an addiction or mental illness, such as Turning Point in New Jersey , which offers "Compassionate Treatment for Alcoholism and Drug Dependency."

Yet do all "turning points" necessarily result in completely life altering changes? Or might many experiences viewed as turning points merely be another path to the same place in life. In other words, if you have a strong goal, maybe turning points are really alternate routes along the way rather than being the only life-changing event to get you there.

I began thinking about turning points when someone at a business networking meeting asked me how I happened to move to San Francisco from Oakland, and I explained how I had to move somewhere after I got caught up in the mortgage meltdown. But I managed to sell my house rather than go through a foreclosure sale and eviction. As she began expressing her deepest sympathy for me, I told her that actually my move turned out for the best, because I found being in San Francisco ideal for my business, since I suddenly had several new clients because I was here. Also, the area where I used to live had become a target for burglaries and home invasion robberies, leading me to think about moving even before I had to move.

Then, later that night, I began wondering about this event and other big events in my life that might be considered turning points. Did they make all the difference in what I am doing now -- writing books of my own and for clients and writing and producing indie films -- or would I have gotten to this point anyway?

For example, suppose I didn't invest $40,000 in a film project that never got finished and therefore didn't have to borrow so much money during the Great Recession business slowdown, so my credit wasn't reduced and I could still pay my mortgage and stay in my house in Oakland? Yet if that happened, I might have still become active in many film and business networking events in San Francisco, so the outcome didn't change. Or alternatively, given the growing crime and budget problems in Oakland, maybe I would have decided to move to San Francisco and get involved in film and business groups anyway. So again, I would have gotten to the same destination, though via a different path.

Or to go back another step, suppose I didn't invest the $40,000 in the ill-fated film project when I lived in L.A. for two years but put it n another film project with a different director. Well, even if that project did get made, its few showings might not have been enough to lead to a film business career in L.A. and the film still lost money. So I still lived in my house in Oakland and faced the same mortgage meltdown as before.

And even before that there was a seeming turning point when a wanna-be producer called me out of the blue to say she was impressed by my books and scripts she discovered on the Internet. So she invited me to stay in L.A., where I met her agent, and after we started putting together a film project that ultimately fell apart, I met a director and producer at film funding event who led me to invest the $40,000 in the film that was never finished. However, suppose that invitation to L.A. never happened? Since I was already writing scripts, I could have still done what I later did to learn the film business -- take film classes and join the Bay Area film community as I did after returning from living in L.A. as an Oakland-L.A commuter for two years. So even if those experiences in L.A. never happened, I could have still found my way into learning how to write and produce short films.

In short, maybe what we think are turning points that change our lives aren't the only way to get to the destination in life we are living now. Maybe what we think of as critical turning points are just one of many paths to get to that destination. Some paths may be more winding and challenging; others may be shorter and more direct; but they are all different ways to get to the future which has become the present we are experiencing now.

So think back to your own life. Are there experiences that stand out as critical turning points for you; incidents you think of as life-changing incidents? Then, taking those incidents, consider what might have been if they didn't happen? Would you still get to where you are today and be doing what you are doing now? Could you have gotten to where you are by traveling a different route?

A good reason for thinking about your path to the present is you can see that when you have a clear sense of where you are going, you can map out alternate ways to get there, and you don't have to feel that any obstacle that seems to be a turning point needs to lead you astray. For many turning points are just that - an experience that leads you in one direction. But you can always change direction or continue in the direction you were already on, so a turning point can become just another memory of what happened while you were on that path. But you can still get to where you are going by going another way.