What If???

We were driving to a family reunion yesterday, and along the way we passed the building (shown above) where I used to work 37 years ago, Prudential Insurance.

It was my first “real” job, working as a dividend analyst in the group insurance division. I was part of a management development program that would have rotated me into various functions over a two-year period.

I never got that far.

After about six months on the job, I realized I couldn’t stand the monotony of the work, and decided to do some soul-searching.

We had just gotten married, and soon after that, we were expecting our first child. We were both working full-time, and I was also taking accounting courses at night so that I could sit for the CPA exam.

One night after class I started talking to my accounting teacher and asked him what it was like being a professor, and he painted quite the favorable picture. I looked into it a bit more, talked it over with my wife, and decided to quit my job and go back to school for my Ph.D.

I gave my boss at Prudential a couple months notice, and the final day could not come soon enough.

Right after I quit, our son was born. My wife also quit her job, and I began my time as a student and teaching assistant at Drexel University, making a grand total of $6,000 per year.

I’m sure my parents thought I was crazy, but never said so, and fully supported us, both emotionally and financially, throughout the four years of the program.

I graduated in 1986, took a job at Villanova, and have been at Nova ever since. I’ve enjoyed my 32 plus years as a professor, but as I drove past the Prudential building yesterday, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What if?”

What if I had decided to stick it out through that two-year management development program?

We certainly would have never moved to Villanova, which means we likely would have never met our neighbors, many of whom have become dear friends.

Our kids would have likely gone to different schools than they did, and would likely have had a different set of friends than they did.

Would I have stayed at Prudential, moving up the ranks as I had originally hoped when I first joined the firm? Would I have been relocated to a different office at some point in my career?

Would I ever have gone back to community college to pick up an Associate’s degree in Health and Fitness? I don’t think so, given that a corporate job probably would not have offered the flexibility to take classes that my job at Nova offered me. As a result of not going to community college would I have ever opened a personal training studio? Probably not.

Would I have had a chance to bring my family on trips to places like Orlando, Hawaii, and Bermuda as a result of presenting at academic conferences? Would I have had a chance to spend three months living, working and exploring in London and other parts of Europe for three months?

Would my wife have gone back to school to become a teacher? Would my kids be living and doing what they are doing now?

Would I have become a vegan? Would I be writing this blog?

Obviously, there are no answers to such questions, but all I can say is that I have no regrets about that decision 36 years ago to leave a relatively secure and stable environment and step into the unknown. We’ve had some wonderful times as a family and made some great friends, thanks to certain choices that were made along the way, and would not trade that for anything.

But it’s fun to think about such things; maybe that’s why two of my favorite movies are It’s a Wonderful Life and Family Man. Both movies take a look at alternative paths that a person’s life could have taken.

And I think that just like me, Jimmy Stewart and Nicholas Cage realize that it’s not what you do for a living, but who you get to spend your life with, that makes all the difference.

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