More often than not, the tiniest decisions lead to the most unexpected outcomes. No one can predict the future, but these stories show how exciting that unknown can be. The split-second, instinctive decisions made by these people have left them with far more exciting experiences than they could have planned for. This content has been lightly edited for clarity.
"I had this great idea to go on a 300-mile bicycle ride through New England. I had never done anything like that before, but I was in pretty good shape and east coast mountains are small. I convinced my mountain biking brother to come along, although he didn’t look at the route. Turns out we did 300 miles and 15,000 feet of vertical climb in three days which is a lot. I was in no way prepared, but it was a great trip.
The last day, I wrecked my bike, but still rode the 100 miles after the crash, so I figured I was fine. I had some impressive bruising and trouble walking while I healed, but there’s not much to do for scrapes and bruises. All my friends and family staged and intervention and made me go to the doctor where I heard exactly what I expected: rest, and no 300 mile rides for awhile. She also wanted to do a cancer screening. I told her I’d gotten one 6 months prior, and I would get another in 6 months, so there was no need. She insisted. Turns out I had the same super aggressive cancer that killed my mom, and I was stage III. I was able to get treatment, and I can expect to live a life without recurrence."
"My neighbor asked me if I had time to play one of the hot new games on his PC when we both were about 10. I said yes only because my friend Kevin cancelled their plans to come over and play.
That game I discovered was Minecraft. It was about 2011 and I previously hated it based on its graphics, but this was the first time I saw its gameplay and I fell in love. I proceeded to play it literally every day for the next few years, and early on joined a game forum for it. There, I met a group of fellow kids proudly meme-ing about their queerness. I joined the group out of curiosity, skyped with a few of them, and I made friends.
With their help, I figured out that I was into dudes. One of those people I supported turned out to become my boyfriend, and the same group made me question my gender after one of them came out as transgender.
Long story short, if my friend didn't cancel their plans to play with me, my childhood friend would have never introduced me to Minecraft, I wouldn't have figured out I was into dudes, I would have never met my current wonderful husband, and I wouldn't have figured out I am actually a girl.
Thanks, Kevin, for cancelling your plans for that day."
"When I was in Afghanistan, I saw a young kid (maybe 12 years old) who was crippled from Polio and was begging on a street corner in Kandahar. This was circa 2012 and I have a near certainty that the kid is probably dead now. I was mostly powerless to do anything then. I just thought about how that kid would never get to step inside a school to learn how to read or do math and how even healthy kids lack the same opportunity in some places.
After I got out, I decided I wanted to teach at-risk kids here in America, so I went to school to be a teacher."
"When I was a kid, we didn't have a lot of money, so we often shopped at thrift stores. What I loved about that was you could get 10 books for a dollar, so I would plant myself in front of the book section and make piles of which ones I wanted to get and I would decide after I'd gone through them all.
One day, an older lady saw me sitting with my piles and asked if I liked to read. I told her I did and showed her a few of the books I found that I liked. She smiled and then pulled a dollar out of her purse, handed it to me and said, ‘Promise me that you'll keep reading.’ I was so happy and immediately stood up and said that I would. She smiled and walked away and I went back to my piles able to pick out an extra 10 books to take home.
It was just a small act of kindness for her, but for me having a random stranger encourage my love of reading and making me promise to never stop definitely had a lot to do with my continued love of reading. This was over 20 years ago, but I still think of her whenever I buy a new book."
"So in mid 2004, I was going to school and working in the technology department at Office Depot. One day the store manager introduced me to a new hire who they said would only be here a few months before she moved off to Florida, and they'd like me to show this person around. So I explained the department and norms of how we went about things to the new girl. I found her attractive and thought she was fascinating, but I didn't let that get to me since she was moving in a few months, and I was dirt poor. I gave her my contact info if she needed to ask me questions when I wasn't at the store, and that was about as far as our interactions went.
Fast forward 12 months later, and she's been gone for probably nine months. Hurricane Katrina hits and wipes me out. It sets back my school plans, and I lose nearly everything I own. I have to restart my life. A few months after the storm, some friends of mine have gotten into World of Warcraft heavily, since it was the only thing for them to do due to no businesses being open post-storm. I think, ‘why not,' and I buy a PC and will see what the fuss is about. I'm loading random stuff on the PC and it has Instant Messaging preinstalled, so I punch in my credentials and forget about it. A few days later I get a message from someone I don't know.
It was the girl! I forgot that I had given her my screen name in case she needed something work related. We are now married with two wonderful kids, a nice house, and two mildly behaved dogs.
I am so thankful to this day that for some reason she kept my contact info and noticed me online."
"In May 1984, my mother, then aged 18, walked up to a military recruiting station in Indianapolis. There were two offices next to each other in the strip mall: an Air Force recruiter, and a Marine Corps recruiter. My mom had already determined that she was more interested in the Air Force, and had (much to her parents' great relief) decided against even talking to the Marine recruiter; at just over 5 feet tall, and never athletic, my mom doesn't come across as the ideal soldier. As she walked up, she ran into the Air Force recruiter, who started to chat with her as they walked. After she told him she had also briefly considered the Marines, the Air Force recruiter laughed and replied, ‘You made the right choice, honey. You probably wouldn't make it through Marine boot camp.’ She turned, walked into the Marine recruiting office, and a few months later shipped out for Parris Island. Four years later, she met my dad. She has always said that, if that recruiter hadn't said that, she would never have given the Marines a thought again."
"When I was 17, I left school with no degree, no money, and no idea what to do with my life. My dad managed to get me a job in retail. On my way to my first day of work, I got hit by a car.
The manager didn’t care and gave my position to someone else. With literally nothing left to do, I decided to go back to school. That was about 7 years ago. During that time, I finished school with honors, got my bachelors degree in electrical engineering (something everyone I knew and talked to told me was impossible for someone like me). Now I work as an engineer and made more money in my first year of work than I ever did in my entire life.
Sometimes I think about tracking the guy down who hit me with his car to thank him."
"It was 1990. I was a year out of high school, in process of half-heartedly changing colleges for my second year since the first had gone less than well. I was 19-going-on-20 and had been working off and on as a carpenter's helper to earn money. I was still living at home and had left the carpentry job for some stupid reason that made sense to idiotic Young Me. I was watching the local small TV market cable-only 5pm news, which I almost never watched. The anchor was interviewing a local popular radio personality who I knew only from listening.
Working at the college radio station was one of the high points of that first year of college, so I pulled out the typewriter and wrote a letter to that radio personality. I told him who I was a kid who did a little college radio, and I asked him simply how I could break into the commercial radio business. I put it in an envelope, addressed it to the station, mailed it the next day, and went about whatever dumb Young Me did. A few days later, as we're about to sit down to dinner (I'm 19, living with my mom), the phone rings. I answer. It's the popular radio personality introducing himself and asking if I could come in to the station for an interview.
A week and a half later I was working at the radio station, on Christmas Eve, running the 10pm to 6am reels of the annual Christmas Show, all by myself and alone. About three years later, I was promoted to Program Director and Operations Manager (and PM Drive Host) of a sister radio station. I've long left the radio business, but everything I learned and was given the opportunity to do back then gave me the launching pad to a life I never would have had if I had continued on the directionless path that I was on."
"I was in the second grade, and the teacher was rewarding our class because we had all gotten good grades on an assignment. We lined up alphabetically by first name. I was excited because my first name is early in the alphabet.
Our reward was Looney Tunes stickers. Now, here's the thing: My favorite Looney Tunes character was, and still is, Daffy Duck, but for some reason, I wanted a Bugs Bunny sticker. I got up there, and there were no Bugs Bunny stickers left. I asked someone who took the last Bugs Bunny sticker. They pointed to a girl I'd never interacted with before.
I reluctantly grabbed the Daffy Duck sticker and went over to the girl. I tried to convince her that I was the smartest kid in the class (not an exaggeration, I really was) and as such, I deserved the Bugs Bunny sticker. She outright refused. I kept trying to convince her until the teacher told everyone to quiet down.
I stayed sitting next to her until recess. At that point, we all lined up to go outside based on where we were sitting. We were right next to each other and talked the whole way out to the playground, then the entire recess.
She has been my best friend since that day. Nearly 11 years ago, I married her. Just over two years ago, we had our first child together. One sticker led me to the love of my life."
"My first year of college, I only had one good friend, who wasn’t able to return to school the next year because she lost her scholarship. If she hadn’t left, I don’t think I would have ever joined a sorority my second year of college (I had always been somewhat interested in joining a sorority, but i wouldn’t have actually gone for it had i not felt so alone without my friend at school).
Fast forward to the summer before my last year of college. I went with my big to New York City over the weekend for a dubstep show with some of her friends. My big and I both love electronic music, and we bonded the most over dubstep. It was one of the huge reasons why we got to know each other and why she became my big. One of these friends happened to be a guy who I met once my freshman year at a party. My big knew him through greek life, but he left the school before I joined (coincidentally he also left because he lost his scholarship).
We were reconnected that weekend in New York City, and then we hung out at a few music festivals after that. We’ve now been dating for 8 months, and although that may not sound long, I’m the happiest I have ever been and have a good feeling about the future of our relationship. So thank you to greek life and dubstep. We always thank my big because without her we probably would not be together, but I realize that it goes back to my friend having to leave school, which is bittersweet."
"My parents and I went to the mall one day, and being a perpetually hungry 17 year old, I asked them to bring me back a Cinnabon. They happened to see that the new movie theater was throwing a hiring event that weekend, so they agreed to bring me back something on the condition that I make my way down there and apply for a job. I was enjoying a very leisurely senior year of HS and wasn't all that interested in disrupting it, but my stomach won out and I agreed to the deal. A few hours later I was employed. I spent the next four and a half years working there with coworkers that became some of my absolute favorite people in the world. One girl in particular caught my eye, and we've been together for 9 years and counting. I can't imagine where I'd be in life if I hadn't asked for that Cinnabon."
"One day before homeroom in my junior year of high school, I went to hang out at my friend Marc's locker, like we all usually did every morning. I came upon our other friend Dave trying to convince Marc to join a club called Junior Achievement at their first meeting later that night. It's a 'young business leaders' sort of extracurricular club. When I asked what they're talking about, Dave suggested I should give it a try as well.
Later that night, my parents were late getting home from my some event, so I figured it was too late for them to give me a ride to this Junior Achievement thing, but when my dad walked in the door and I reminded him, he hurried me out to the car so I went. I was in the club both junior and senior year of high school with my friends. It was a ton of fun. I still have a lot of fond memories.
Our regional Junior Achievement Club offered an annual full tuition scholarship to a local private university. A top tier school, but one I was not considering. Marc, Dave, and our other senior year friends already had their college careers planned out. They convinced me to apply for the scholarship, so that at least someone from our club applied.
In the end, apparently only me and some other kid from some other local club in our region applied for the scholarship. And I must have wowed the selection committee because I won the scholarship, and I got a nearly free ride into that university. Which was good news, since I wasn't accepted to any of the other colleges I applied at. So I owe my entire college career, all the friends I made there and probably my current job to that random morning before homeroom. We're all still friends all these years later. My high school crew has surprisingly remained together going on more than 15 years."
"When I was a kid, the pastor of my parents' church heard me practicing Bach on the piano. He asked if I'd like to try the pipe organ, something that had always fascinated me. I took to it like a duck to water, even though my feet could barely reach the pedals. So right then and there, knowing my parents couldn't afford it, he offered to pay for my complete music education in preparation for college (including organ, piano, theory, keyboard harmony and ear training). His act of generosity and kindness brought about my career. And all he asked in return was for me to substitute for the church organist while he was on vacation or away, which I was honored to do."
"I was living in Japan on my own when the head office decided to send me and other coworkers scattered throughout Japan to a conference in a city about five hours away. We arrived a day early to have our own little mini conference, so on the official first day of the conference, I had a lot of free time to kill. I was bored to tears while I was hanging out in the hotel lobby. I went to help myself to the complementary coffee when this Japanese guy comes up to me and asks, in Japanese, ‘Is the coffee free?’ I had literally just learned the word for ‘free’ that week. I told him yes, and was going to walk away, all proud of myself for communicating in Japanese, but I thought to myself, ‘You know, this might be a good chance to practice my Japanese.’ I turned around and struck up a conversation. Seven years later I'm married to that guy and we have two kids. I could have missed out on the love of my life if I hadn't learned the word for free that week, or if I'd been a minute earlier getting my coffee, or if I hadn't decided to practice my Japanese and just walked away."
"In kindergarten, I misunderstood a coloring assignment where you had to color the matching butterflies the same color (so the butterflies with square wings were both blue, circle both red, etc) and I just colored the butterflies however I wanted.
I showed my finished work to the substitute for the class, who was also the school principal. When she saw how much I messed up, she ripped it up in front of me and yelled about how I did the assignment wrong.
Since then, I’ve typically been a 'to-the-books' worker who is afraid of trying a new technique or method even if it would be better. I’ve also been a perfectionist, and I was clinically diagnosed with OCD for a while after that event.
I just find the story funny now because I just finished my freshman year at the Kansas City Art Institute. I’m well on my way to becoming a professional artist, but I think because of the principal, I take assignments 'too' literally."
"In 1997 I was in an AOL chat room for vampire fans. I chatted up a flirty girl and found out she didn't live too far away from where I went to college. She sent me some pictures and I was immediately not interested. I mean, I don't want to sound rude, but she just wasn't my type at all. But we still chatted a bit and she invited me to a New Year's Eve party.
So, sight unseen, I picked a pair of friends and drove to the party. Turns out it wasn't even her party, it was the party of a friend of hers. She hadn't told that friend that she was inviting me. But the girl throwing the party was a good sport and the guy throwing it with her was also a good sport and they didn't want to turn us away, so we partied with them all. Turns out that we had a lot in common and I made some great friends that night that I kept for life.
Fast forward to today. That group of friends is how I moved to the city I live in, how I met my wife (with whom I have two amazing children), and how I made some great memories. The guy throwing that party is literally sitting about twenty feet away from me at another desk. I never did meet the girl who invited me to the party, but it was easily the best invitation of my life."
"I used to work at a pharmacy chain, and we sold propane tanks. They were stored in a cage on the side of the building.
One day, this elderly woman put her car in drive instead of reverse then punched the gas. She went over the curb and drove into the side of the building just behind the cash registers, cracking the brick of the building.
She missed the tanks by a few inches and could have caused an explosion if everything had lined up just the right way. I don't get people that do this kind of thing. It doesn't make any sense to just slam down on the pedal and to not look to see if you're in drive or reverse.
"There was a time in 2008 when classes were suspended due to a strong typhoon were I live. I took the bus home before the weather worsened and lounged lazily in my room. Now, I was not the type to leave my room once I am there, but during the height of the strong gusts of wind, I had the urge to watch our mango tree in our backyard near the river. I went down and literally watched the swaying tree for a full minute. Realizing that I might be bored or the tree watching is such a stupid activity compared to reading or listening to music, I headed for my room upstairs.
As I was climbing up the last step of the stairs, a loud crash of broken glasses, coupled with the thuds on my wooden wall were heard through the corridor. My mother shrieked out my name as she was in tears, scared to death with the thought that I was in my room. She hugged me, crying in relief that I am alive. I was dumbfounded with the sight of my bedroom. My door was unhinged (It was a pretty flimsy one), shards of glasses all over, and a considerable amount of them struck my bed and walls. My wallpaper was torn by the glass shreds, and what looked like a wooden stake was smack dab in the middle of my bed, planted like a signpost on the wooden frame where my head would usually be lying down. The wind uprooted the stake where it was once was and it crashed with the windows. When the storm died down, our neighbors told us that they also had a stake that pierced through their wooden ceiling and struck their wall fan.
Guess it wasn't my time yet. And my mom knows how attached I was with my bedroom. And that watching trees ain't that stupid, after all."