Do you ever ask, “What if”?
There is not a time or decision that I can think of from the past that I can truly say I look back on with regret. However, there are moments that I often wonder “what if” — one in particular.
Young, innocent, a bit naïve, my dream is to get into modeling and/or show business. Not exactly a secure future, but hey . . . like I said, I was young, dreaming, a bit naive . . . the world was my oyster. Looking back, I probably had what it would take . . . at least in looks if not in talent and emotional maturity.
I had never been on what I would call a true extended vacation on my own. It had always been family trips to visit relatives and enjoying the sights along the way. But now it was time. I planned a trip to California. I had never been out west, much less to California — the land of dreamers! I’d fly to San Diego, visit a friend there, rent a car, make my way up the coast to San Francisco, and fly back to Tampa from there.
A friend of my mom’s had a family friend whose son was a fairly successful dancer and choreographer (he had appeared, for example, in the film version of “Music Man” and had won numerous awards and recognitions for his work). I was told that he was one who might be able to provide some valuable connections. He was currently living in Malibu and had conveyed that he would be more than happy to get together and help lead me in the right direction.
On the plane to California I happened to sit next to someone who, after extended conversation, invited me to visit their home and offered not only work but a place to stay if I decided to stay out there and needed at least temporary lodging. It was certainly an offer worth considering.
A few days after arriving in California, I made my way up to L.A. and met with my connection at Malibu. It was a great visit. Jack was staying at the home of legendary choreographer Onna White, who was currently away at Disney Studios working on choreography for the film “Pete’s Dragon”. While chatting with Jack in Ms. White’s living room, I happened to notice a gold statue toward the top of some book shelves. I said, “That almost looks like an Academy Award.” Jack said, “It is. It’s the Oscar that Onna won for her work on the film version of “Oliver”. It was only the second Oscar ever awarded for choreography, and Ms. White had been the first woman to receive it.
Jack pulled it down off the shelf and handed it to me. WOW! I’m holding a real Academy Award!!! I asked hesitantly if I could get a picture with it. Next thing, we were out on the deck overlooking Malibu Beach. I was on top of the world! I had arrived!
After returning Oscar to his rightful place, we took a walk down the beach, all the while Jack pointing out celebrity homes — Carol Burnett, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward (whom Jack said he ran into regularly on the beach and would always stop and chat — Paul was a bit shy, but he and Joanne would chat up a storm). For me it was like being in a whole different universe.
Jack was kind enough to contact a friend who was a casting director at MGM television, and a couple of days later I was sitting in his office at MGM. We chatted, I showed him some photos and my (at the time) scanty resume, and he said, “You know, Steve, if you lived here in California, I might actually be able to do something for you.”
That right there would have been the biggest, most important decision of my life up to that point. I walked out of his office with my head in the clouds and scared to death at the same time. Was I ready to leave home with no guarantees of my future? Was this really what I wanted to do? Could (or would) this casting director really offer me the opportunities of which I had dreamed? What would I do in the meantime, especially since I had already walked away from one offer? So many questions.
I made my way on up the coast over the following days, ending my journey in San Francisco before flying home. I never followed up with anyone I had been with on that trip — no one.
I often think back to that fateful trip, wondering what my life might have been like had I made different choices. Where would I be right now? What would I be doing? My thoughts are not so much out of regret. Just pure wonder.
As it is, I’ve met my share of incredible people over the years since. I’ve developed wonderful relationships. I’ve had some irreplaceable experiences. Friendship I hold dear now, I never would have had. Places I’ve lived, I never would have lived. I haven’t exactly made a financial success of my life, but I have been blessed in so many ways.
The bottom line is we can’t live in the past. We can’t live burdened with regret. Instead, we must simply ask “what if.” What if I make a decision right now as to what I’m going to do moving forward? What if I make the changes in my life I need to make right now? What if I reach out to others right now and help make the world a better place for them as well as for myself? What if I learn to live in the only time I have right now, and that is RIGHT NOW?