We all make countless decisions every day, many of which seem unimportant at the time. But sometimes little decisions can have big ramifications, and we've collected stories from people who can track some of the biggest life outcomes to the tiniest whims. Read on to see how these lives were changed by what's known as the Butterfly Effect.
A Random Email Leads to a Career Change in a Big Way
“My wife got an email from her old colleagues the day we returned home from our honeymoon, asking if she wanted to star in a short film they were doing for fun. She said sure, and asked if I could come along. She knew I had an interest in movies, even though at the time I worked in life insurance and was miserable.
It was more than an interest- I had always wanted to make films, but never made the right connections with people and didn’t know where to start.
I made friends with the producer of that short film my wife was in, and 11 years later filmmaking and video production is my career. I’ve shot feature films, short films, video for TV and web, and all over the world because of that one email to my wife. Changed our lives!
Oh, and that original short film never got finished!”
Heritage, MySpace, and Marriage
“My future husband found out after 18 years that his moms side of the family was Spanish, not Mexican. He found this interesting and changed his country to ‘Spain’ on MySpace instead of the US where he really was. Meanwhile in Australia, I was helping my friend find Spanish people to add as a friend as she was learning the language. I came across my now husband and decided to send him a friend request as well. We got along really well and met in person after 3 years. Have been together 11 years, married for 7. If he didn’t change his country to Spain (and only for a day or so) we’d never know each other existed.”
The Most Expensive Phone Call He Ever Made.
“When my dad was about 20, he needed a phone number, so he called the operator from a pay phone. She gave him the number, he hung up, and she accidentally refunded the money back to the pay phone. She called the pay phone back and asked him if he could put the money back in, which he did and hung up again. She accidentally refunded the money again and had to call back again to ask him to put the money back in; he did and hung up once more. She was so flustered, she refunded the money again and called back again, and my father got to chatting with her and got her number. They set up a date, which she stood him up for. Then she forgot his name. When he called her again, then they actually got coffee and four years later were married. This coming August it’ll be 50 years for them.
If my dad didn’t need that phone number, I wouldn’t be here. My dad still calls it ‘the most expensive phone call he ever made.'”
Getting Lost in the Stars
“When I was in 8th grade (13 years old), I had a really long bus ride home, so would pass the time by reading. One day I faced the very serious situation of nothing to read, and I only had a minute to grab something in the library. For whatever reason, I grabbed a book on astronomy. That book was amazing and grabbed me like nothing else had before. I remember being excited to realize that every astronomer on Earth was 13 years old once too, and that was a career you could actually do, even if you were from Pittsburgh.
Anyway, today I am a professional astronomer who studies gigantic space explosions for a living. There was a lot of work to get from that moment to this one, but I’m always grateful that I picked up that library book!”
Kentucky Final Destination
“The other day I was driving home from work, traffic was light and I was behind a car with a numberplate that started ‘KFD.’ So I decided to duck through KFC drive thru for fries with extra salt as a little treat to myself.
They took forever to bring them out and by the time they finally did (all told about 10 minutes later), traffic has slowed to a complete halt.
I needed to get over a bridge that’s normally six lanes which has now been reduced to one. Turns out it’s due to a massive collision involving several cars. When I finally get to the point where I’m driving past, I notice the numberplate on one of the cars. It was that same KFD numberplate.
If I hadn’t stopped to get hot fries I’m fairly sure I’d have been in a major collision.”
When What Amounts to a Coin Flip Determines Your Entire Future
“I was given two start dates for an entry level job in a large organization.
The date I choose to start led to working in a small but high profile team, so I got lots of exposure with senior management and I became the can-do-guy who’d fix a million tiny problems. That recognition led to promotions, a fantastic career, further professional qualifications and working overseas for several years. I also met my best friend and my partner.
If I’d chosen the other date I’d have been sent to a data processing pool and been fairly anonymous.”
Someone Else’s Flu Saves a Life
“I was 30, married, 2 children, running a business with the husband, running 3 miles a day, and developing an alternative to ADHD medication for my youngest. I was tired, but I chalked that up to being a mom/business owner. For several months I was experiencing chest pains, but not the kind you’d think of when you’re having a heart attack. Not that I knew, but my intuition was that it was not heart-related, especially because it would go away with a warm tub soak. So I figured it was muscular/skeletal. I was also suffering from shin splints, so I took a break from running, and started yoga. Yoga gave me massive headaches, so I took up swimming. The indoor cholorination made me sick to my stomach, so I was in the middle of finding something that I liked. It was a Sunday, and the chest pain was getting pretty bad. I told my husband that I wanted to go to the ER. He was a bit annoyed that I wanted to spend a Sunday afternoon in the ER, but I just had a feeling. They put me in a room immediately. EKG, good. Bloodwork, good. Everything looked good – they assumed it was an inflammation in the chest bone, caused from coughing, or even something as silly as wearing pantyhose too high. So, that was the DX on my discharge papers that I was waiting for the doctor to sign.
A nurse pops her head in: ‘Doc, I think you should look at this.’ It was the blood clot test result – no clot, but something was off enough to send me for a chest x-ray. Chest x-ray tech says, ‘Don’t worry sweetie, they just do this for liability purposes. You’re young, and likely fine.’ I was in the my room like ugh…stupid liability tests…c’mon, I just wanna go home. Then the tech comes in and says, ‘Well, the good news is that you did not have a heart attack, and that chest pain is the inflammation issue. The bad news: your aorta is about to burst.’
I almost walked out of there. If I did not have shin splints, headaches from yoga (that was directly related to not getting oxygen to the brain) and chlorine, I would have died during one of those exercises. If my son did not come early, his size would have caused a burst, and if that nurse didn’t take lawsuits seriously, I would have gone home for what would have been the last weeks with my family. But none of that is even the really crazy thing.
A while later I had to call my heart surgeon to give him my new insurance numbers for the surgery I was scheduled for. I had only just gotten them because the person who was supposed to get them to me had the flu and was not getting back to me. As soon as I got my numbers, I called the surgeon’s office. The receptionist said, ‘Oh, hey, we just had a cancelation for this Friday, do you want it?’ Of course I wanted to get it over and not wait another month. Decided to take the open heart surgery cancelation appointment which was a month before my actual appointment. After surgery, the surgeon said that it was good I did, because once he got a look inside, he realized I would not have survived to the original appointment date.
So, if the insurance lady didn’t have the flu, I would have gotten those numbers a lot sooner, and never gotten the offer to have the surgery when I did.
Someone else’s flu saved my life.”
“I was out of university, looking for a job and exhausting all the online resources. On a whim, I looked in the career section in a print newspaper that was lying around in the house. We never subscribed to that paper, and I don’t know why it was even there.
Got the job in a different city, met someone who is now one of my best friends, who introduced me to their friends, who introduced me to their friends and so on, until I was eventually introduced to my wife. If I’d found a job where I actually planned on working, there is absolutely no way I would have crossed paths with any of these people.”
From Famous Child to Famously Happy
“My parents dream was to have a ‘famous child.’ When my older sister’s figure skating career ended in her early twenties, the spotlight shifted to me. I was a fine oboist, and took private voice lessons with intent to audition for the local music faculty/opera. In any case, there was a lot of pressure, and while I was successful at school and classical music, it was never enough.
At 17, before senior year began, my sister gifted me a kitten. My parents had given her 2 in her senior year, and the implication was that it was my turn. When my sister dropped me off, my parents locked me out, saying that if i wanted my own pet I needed my own place. So I found one – that night. I worked 3 jobs to support myself through senior year and graduated with entrance scholarships to both of the local universities.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford a music degree while living on my own, even with the entrance scholarships. And good thing. Entering the work force showed me how much I love active jobs. Three years later, I enrolled in college and became an industrial mechanic/millwright, to my parents great shame.
After a few years of this I landed a sweet contract where I work on Saturdays and Sundays but receive a full week’s pay. Although I am a living beacon of disappointment, I comfort myself with my 100k a year job, 2 day workweek, and 2 cats. If my sister hadn’t given me that cat, maybe none of it would have happened.”
A Light Bulb to a Life
“The older I get, the more I am constantly cognizant of the vast cascade of seemingly insignificant decisions and actions that led me to where I am. For example, a decision 25 years ago to change a refrigerator light bulb before going out resulted in my being at the ‘wrong’ time and place so as to get mugged, which resulted in my decision to move out of the city I had been living in, which resulted in my meeting my wife, and from there to having all my kids and the whole shebang. I would have had a different whole shebang had I not changed that lightbulb that afternoon, but the path to the present leads through that (and a thousand other) similarly trivial decisions.”
“A few years ago, I was on the phone with my boss as I was getting home, discussing what we needed to get done the next day when he asked ‘What the f is that noise?!’
I said it’d make more sense to just show you. So I took a video of me opening the door and feeding my (very loud) farm cats. I realized I didn’t like anyone crowding me awkwardly looking at my phone when I show someone a video, so I uploaded it to YouTube.
The next morning I went to show him on the computer, and noticed it was up to 11 views which I found odd. Then it went viral. Thousands of views per hour. I was getting constant calls and emails about buying the video rights and just asking for permission to use it.
All because I don’t like holding my phone to show someone else a 30 second video.”
Katy Perry Trivia Knowledge Pays Off in a Big Way
“Watched ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’ and got so annoyed at the candidates not knowing a simple question about Katy Perry, that I applied. Got in. Got to play. It was the biggest adrenaline rush ever. I had a lot of fun. It wasn’t easy getting in either, I had to go through 3 video/call interviews before they invited me.
Anyway, I won a lot of money. Booked a holiday to a dream destination with that money. Met my husband there. We now have a 1 year old son.”
Just Another Day at the DMV
I had to renew the sticker on my license plate a couple of years ago and really didn’t feel like sitting in the waiting room by myself forever. So I told my mom I’d take her out to dinner after if she came with me. I can’t remember exactly how names came up, but my mom realized the guy at the counter had the same last name she was born with, and asked if he was related to her biological dad. He said, ‘Yea that’s my father.’ The guy working at the counter turned out to be my mom’s long lost biological brother.
I now refer to the guy as my Uncle Jeff, and my family has become relatively close to his in the last couple years.
If she hadn’t come with me, we would have never known.
Swag Saves the Day
“I was at a university career fair and was just finishing a long day taking to companies and heading out when I see a Honda booth. Designing cars would be awesome, but there is a huge line, it has been a long day, and what are the chances? But wait! They are giving away hats and shirts and model cars! So I talk to them. A day later I get a callback for an online assessment. I fill that out and don’t hear anything back for a month or so. Then I get a call one night saying I was an alternate, and someone cancelled last minute so they want to fly me up for on-site interviews. I go and end up getting and accepting an offer. After graduation I move about 1000 miles away from home for my new job where a few years after I meet my now wife and we have 2 kids. I never would have crossed paths with her otherwise. So the entire course of my life was shifted because Honda gave away good swag at their career fair booth.”
When Saying Hi is Unknowingly Taking a Big Step
“Decided to approach a girl in a wheelchair in a bar, because I thought it was cool of her to be out and about having a good time.
After approaching the girl in the wheelchair ( let’s call her Y), we hung out the rest of the night and exchanged contact numbers. I did not intend to pursue her in any romantic fashion even though she was actually very attractive. Her disability was temporary. She told me she had passed out in the bathtub and hit her head, and when she woke up she couldn’t feel her legs. She was doing physiotherapy.
Anyway, we were buddies for a while. I would push her chair all over town and made sure she was accepted in my group of friends. Even though my friends made jokes about me liking her, I never put myself out there as someone who was interested, and she always shut those jokes off and kind of belittled me as if I was not good enough for her. Which was fine, I took it as banter between friends. One night I met my her friend (let’s call her Z). Later, I took Y home because, well, she was in a wheelchair and it was like 3 am. Y and I sat outside Y’s house and talked until like 7am. We talked about everything, and she asked if I liked her friend, Z. I said yes, and she asked if I wanted her to give it a little push. I said I didn’t need that, and I prefer it for things to be natural. I said I would approach Z on my own terms, and that was that.
Well, apparently Y didn’t like that. Not that I didn’t accept her help, but that I liked her friend. Apparently I had been leading her on for weeks by being nice and considerate of her disability. I didn’t know it when I approached her first, but she confessed later she didn’t have a lot of friends, so I had tried to be one. Even if I was romantically invested in her, which I obviously wasn’t, she would often assure me I had no chance with her. Now thinking about it I guess she was ‘negging’ me? Well, it worked pretty well. I had absolutely no interest in her in a romantic way. And after hanging out for weeks, I actually stopped liking her because she would create drama every where we went. Shouting at waitresses, bullying bouncers in overcrowded bars to let her in because she was in a wheelchair, playing psychological games with my friends, the list goes on. After finding out I was interested in Z, she cancelled dinner with me and my friends and went to the restaurant where Z worked. She created a scene and told her not to see me ever again. Z told her to calm down, and that she still wanted to meet up at the same bar we always went. They came, and Y spent the whole night bad mouthing me to my friends. Every time I was talking to anyone in the bar – especially girls – she would come over, and start shouting and telling them I wasn’t worth anything. I had no clue why she was acting that way, and it turns out she liked me the whole time and told my friends I was acting like a teenager leading her on – even though she constantly negged me and belittled me in front of everyone? Someone was a little bit delusional. I had to come clean with Z. I said I never showed interested in Y, and that I actually liked her and wanted to take her out. Y proceeded to run Z over with the wheelchair.
Z is now my wife, and every time Y’s name comes up she won’t shut up about how her foot still hurts, even years after that incident. Y spent the next weeks trying to turn my friends against me, even though they had known me for decades and knew I wasn’t this mean person she was trying to say I was.
I don’t regret any of it. I was always fair and never tried or showed any interested besides friendship with her. When she asked me if I was into her friend I straight up told her yes. I’m happy to have met her, and that she introduced me to my wife, I hope she is well and healthy but we don’t keep in touch.
Had I not said ‘Hi’ to the wheelchair lady that night, I wouldn’t have the most precious things in my life right now.”
Good Luck Can Still Feel Horrible
“So a few years back, I lived in Nice (South of France) for a while. As a musician, I would make a bit of extra cash busking, and one day, I figured I’d go and busk at the promenade ‘d’anglais by the sea. It’s usually packed, and it just a generally pleasant place to be. I set up, played a couple of songs and was doing pretty well and making a decent amount of money. Then suddenly not one, but two of my guitar strings snapped (I even remember I was playing ‘The Scientist’ at the time).
I was massively gutted and decided to cut my losses early. I stormed off home (by the station) in a bit of a sulk at having to re-string my guitar and cutting short what was essentially one of my most productive days of busking since moving there. Literally one hour later, my phone starts to blow up with family and friends freaking out and asking if I was at the promenade.
It was Bastille Day, 2016. A truck drove into the same crowd I was playing to, killing 86 people, including my at-the-time gf’s uncle. I had two other friends who were amongst the 458 injured. I moved home the next month because it was too much, and haven’t been back since.
It’s hard to explain, sometimes I think I was super lucky, sometimes I just kind of cry and wonder why I was lucky and others weren’t. It’s surreal, and despite what people think… it’s a truly horrible feeling.”
“One day when I was about 11 years old, I went to a farmer’s market with my father. While we were there, I saw a street performer who was juggling, and I absolutely loved watching him. So I decided I was going to learn to juggle. A few months later, I started 6th grade, and my middle school had a juggling club after classes one day a week, where the very same guy i saw performing at the farmer’s market would be teaching kids to juggle. So of course I went.
Two years later, I’m now 13 years old. I was looking online for some juggling forums, and /r/juggling on Reddit was the most active one I could find. So I created a Reddit account. Eventually I started exploring other subreddits, and then one day I found myself in /r/IAmA, where I read an AMA by a guy who had loaded a bunch of camping gear onto his bicycle and spent a year and a half riding from northern Alaska to the southern tip of South America. I loved cycling, I loved camping, and at the time, I’d recently returned home from my first international travel —to Costa Rica, a country he went through on his journey— and absolutely loved that, so the way most 13 year olds obsess over something, I developed a bit of an obsession for bicycle touring.
Finally, the summer when I was 16 years old, I felt ready to pitch the idea to my parents, though on a much smaller scale. So one day, I borrowed my mom’s bike, because the bike I had at the time had no way to carry my stuff, and I took whatever camping gear i could find in our garage and haphazardly bungeed it to the back of the bike. And then I rode to a state park about 40 miles from our house that we’d driven to many times before. I camped there for the night, then biked back home the next day.
I absolutely loved it. So the next summer, it wasn’t quite such a surprise to my parents when I pitched the idea of spending four days biking 200 miles, again camping in state parks each night. After that, I was going into my senior year of high school. I realized that perhaps my best opportunity to do some big crazy year long bike camping adventure would be before I got stuck with a bunch of college debt, and then a career I couldn’t easily leave, etc. So I decided to take a gap year after high school.
After finishing high school in 2017, I realized that long term traveling would require more money than I had. So after spending one last summer messing around with my friends from high school before they scattered across the country for college, I took what little money I did have and went off on my most ambitious bike trip up to that point. I spent 20 days cycling 1,300 miles around Lake Michigan, starting and ending at my home in southern Wisconsin.
When I returned from the Lake Michigan trip, I had two dollars and change to my name, so I quickly found a job, selling my soul to the world of retail for the better part of the next two years. The first two weeks of October of 2018, I took my vacation time from work and flew my bike out to Asheville, North Carolina to spend those two weeks cycling up the Blue Ridge Parkway and part of Skyline Drive before turning east to Washington DC.
And then, last summer, I decided it was finally time. I quit my job in early July, and then spent the next month and a half preparing for that big crazy bike ride I’d dreamed of for so long. In mid-August, I was finally ready, and I left my home in Wisconsin with the vague goal of riding to Seattle and down the Pacific coast. I spent the better part of the next seven months cycling 5,300 miles around the country, turning east from San Diego into Arizona.
If I hadn’t seen that juggler at the farmer’s market, it never would have happened.”