Call it fate, call it the butterfly effect, call it what you will – whatever the label, the product is the same. Our lives are defined by every microscopic decision we make. Ever footstep, choice of meal, book, film or place to be – our future is defined by the decisions we make in the present; decisions we don’t even think we’re making half the time.
Take this morning for example – I was walking along the road to a friend’s house and I was coming up to a part of the village that is currently under new development. A 6ft metal fence was balancing was precariously as the wind battered against it and though the weights looked sturdy enough, I made the decision to step into the road to give myself a wide berth, speeding up slightly. Just after I had gone past it, the fence collapsed but into the road where I was walking. No matter my decision, the fence would have gotten me if I hadn’t have sped up a little to avert it. Now who knows what would have happened, it might have only grazed me but there’s also the possibility that stepping into the road could have resulted in an entirely different scenario. Whatever that scenario, my life would have changed completely. And it’s not until you take the time to reflect on the endless branches you could end up on that you actually drive yourself a little bit crazy thinking, ‘Well what if..?’. But the biggest question we posit that often leads to regret is the one where we ask ourselves, ‘Why didn’t I do that when I had the chance? Why didn’t I take that opportunity?’.
I don’t believe in regrets; I don’t have them. They’re a complete waste of time as you spend your time wallowing in the past thinking about a decision that you didn’t make and can’t now take. Well what’s the point in that? What a complete waste of energy. I do, however, occasionally find myself wondering what would have been had I taken a particular opportunity that, in hindsight when thinking about the sliding doors, presented itself just a minute too late.
I graduated university in 2008 and had the usual mix of despair and hopelessness that I washed down every morning as I woke to go to a job that was as far removed from my degree as David Cameron is from claiming JSA. Mild hope showed itself to me from time to time as I thought of this as just the beginning but I soon became fettered with the 9-5 life, particularly because I had no choice. This was the height of the ‘credit crunch’ and my family in particular were feeling the effects. I had to work in order to support and help my parents as they had done for me for so many years; I didn’t have the ability to purchase film equipment and shoot DIY or work for scraps on projects to scrape together a half-decent CV. This I had no problem with as I knew where my loyalties lay; film can wait. So I worked hard but in the end it was fruitless. Woolworths, my reliable employer that kept me going from a Saturday job at sixth form, through University and into post-grad employment went under and in January 2009 I found myself signing on for JSA with not much to give my already struggling family.
That period of time was probably the most soul-destroying but I didn’t realise it at first. My optimism remained high with the notion that a recent graduate had a lot to offer the employment world. How bad could it be? Two weeks and I’ll be in to a new job, suit pressed, tea made and ready to crack on. Wrong. Six months I signed on for JSA at the height of this country’s difficulty in tightening the wallet. As a recent graduate I had prospects but the problem was, for most jobs I was going for I was over-qualified. It astonished me but I know now the problem was, a lot of companies didn’t want to invest in graduates for roles that had no potential to promote. Other graduate positions preferred a different type of degree in the bag as opposed to just ‘Media’. So for six months I applied and applied and applied for positions, making the pilgrimage to the job centre every two weeks to declare that success was still out of reach. Just as I started to attend weekly appointments, I finally got an interview and was successful of a position at Orange. I had tried so hard to avoid going back into retail but alas the familiar beast reared her ugly head and drew me back in like a siren to a fisherman lost at sea.
At least it was employment. It was permanent, it paid and it meant that a stable income was available at a time that it was more than needed. We were back on our feet, I was gainfully employed and the smart price bread could finally make way for Warburton’s once more. Though I wasn’t happy to still be so far away from desired field I was at least content that I was doing my bit. I was out of the system, another happy statistic. I was employed and that’s what I’d asked for. And then, one week before I was due to start at Orange, I got a phone call…
And it all comes down to one split second. One instantaneous decision that, once those words have been uttered, cannot be undone. There it is. Done. Finito. End of story. You’ve chosen your path, Dorothy, now off you go down that yellow brick road.
Sometimes you haven’t got time to think, you haven’t got the opportunity to ask for time to make a decision. Whilst time is infinite, it’s often the only thing you don’t have. I had a couple of weeks spare before I started work with Orange. I was in the Lake District doing a bit of work experience for an outdoor broadcast company when I got a call from a production supervisor on the BBC drama Hustle. Production had moved to Birmingham and they had found my details on a local production website. Did I want to work on the production for six months whilst it was shooting in Birmingham? I’d be a runner, learning the trade on an established drama series with the ability to make a list of contacts that might keep me in good steed. But it was only for six months, after which the boys from the black stuff would come calling for me once more. I don’t think my mind has ever calculated a decision so quickly in its life. The scales were weighed with pro’s and con’s; the sensible outweighed the spontaneous and I declined the opportunity. Thanks, but no thanks. And just like that, she was gone. ‘Okay, thanks, bye.’ Click, brrrrrr. I didn’t exactly expect her to fight for me as I can hardly say my credentials made me a necessity, but I at least expected a bit of prospective employer propositioning – the kind where the advantages of their working world are offered to you like a King’s banquet. Alas, there was no fight.
As soon as I put the phone down I berated myself. Though I knew I was right to decline it – I had to choose guaranteed employment over temporary work – but I should have at least offered my services in other ways. Weekends, evenings – anything. Though I can’t fully commit, is there something else I can do? So I tried to ring her back – no answer. Sorry, I can’t get to the phone right now. If your enquiry is regarding a wrong decision, there is no message to leave after the beep. My girlfriend at the time’s Dad whom I was working with in the Lakes just told me straight – ‘You’re just a name on a list. Once you say no, your name is crossed off and it’s on to the next one.’ I’d always known the media world was cut throat but I got a taste that day of how fast it moves and without remorse. I naively thought that my credentials had stood out on this production site I’d been found on, when merely the whole site had been cut and pasted. I’m not being disingenuous here either; I’m fully appreciative of the opportunity I was offered despite its origins. I just couldn’t help but wish that it had come two weeks earlier because at the time when I had no employment, temporary employment would have been snapped up like Jeremy Clarkson by ITV but sadly, when the safety of full-time employment was already in hand at a time when it was worth its weight in gold, I had no other choice but to make the decision I made.
And I don’t regret it; not a single day have I thought, ‘I wish I’d have done this instead’, despite how much I hated working at Orange. It was the right thing to do for me, my family – for everyone. I don’t really think my Mom and Dad know about the decision I made and back then would have berated me for choosing what I did. I know that if they had the opportunity to make that decision for me they would have made further sacrifices for me to go and be a runner, but it was my time to make a sacrifice. They have given their entire life to me and my brothers; it was a minuscule and infinitesimal repayment of gratitude from me, and I would do it again given the chance.
But I do often wonder what would have happened and where I’d be now had I taken it. Would I be still working in production having gained experience and contacts? Would I be somewhere else in the world, working on a film of my own? Or would I have had a bad experience and ended up hating that world so much that I wouldn’t even be writing a blog today? It’s fair to wonder where it might have taken my career but I don’t regret a single decision because it may not have led me to where I am right now, and you know what? I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than I am right now.