One Moment that Changed My Life
Photo courtesy of Prophet And Poet.

One Moment that Changed My Life

Written by Neil Hughes

Topics: Life

When I was ten, I made a decision that would alter the course of my life.

It wasn’t a big decision. It wasn’t anything obviously life-changing like “I will be an astronaut,” or “I will study medicine.”

There’s debate about whether everybody sees their life as a grand narrative, but I think that people who think of life as a story tend to imagine that critical turning points are always huge and dramatic moments.

But my ten-year-old self didn’t stand over the body of my father and vow to devote my life to vengeance against his killers, or anything like that.

Nope…. I chose to learn to play the tuba.

Year Five

My Year Five* teacher was strict. Very little nonsense was permitted in her class. Maybe my adult mind exaggerates the memories, but I remember feeling frustrated, bored, and repressed all year.

* For Americans, our UK “Year Five” is what you call “Grade Four.” (It’s probably best not to ask why we’re one year ahead of you. Suffice it to say that there are secrets you are not permitted to learn, and we need an extra year of school to fit them in.)

And so I mostly tried to ignore what was going on, keep my head down, and hope that Year Six would be better. (With hindsight, this is quite a sad mentality for a child to have!)

This meant I was caught by surprise one day when a number of students stood up to leave the class during a particularly boring lesson. They were going for a music test to see if they could learn an instrument!

I vaguely remembered hearing about this, but I hadn’t paid enough attention. I put my hand up. My very strict teacher looked at me over the top of her glasses.

“Can I go too, Miss?”

“Did your parents sign to give you permission to miss this lesson?”

Of course they hadn’t! I hadn’t paid enough attention to realize this was happening. My heart sank. Surely the strictest teacher in the school was never going to let this one slide. But I wanted to get out of this lesson very badly.

“No, Miss. But… please! I’m sure my parents won’t mind. They love music! And I already know about planets! And! And!”

I tried desperately to find a persuasive angle. I didn’t have much hope. I was going to have to stay and be miserable while half the class got to do something fun and musical.

But to my great surprise – and immense gratitude – she nodded.

“Go on, then. But bring me that slip tomorrow.”

I ran to join my friends.

The Consequences

After the test, I was chosen as one of few to be given an instrument and taught to play it. Naturally, this being me, I wasn’t given a trumpet or a horn or anything sensible.

I was given a tuba. Thanks, Universe.

At the age of ten, it was essentially the same size I was. (This ratio didn’t change much in my favour, even by the time I was eighteen.)

I spent the next eight years at school with a vague reputation as the “tuba kid” as I carted this massive tube-strosity around for my weekly lessons.

But the more important consequences arose when I was fifteen and I joined a local band. Suddenly my social life exploded. I met people from different schools all around the area. I started getting invited to parties by the older kids in the band.

The band opened me up to travel opportunities and I ended up getting a taste for international adventure. When I finished school, I went to South America to work and improve my Spanish.

While in South America, I changed my mind about my future. Instead of studying linguistics, I’d take up physics. And then, during my degree…

One Decision, Many Changes

I’ll stop there. You don’t need my entire life story. But I find it fascinating that I can trace the trajectory of my life back to one decision I made at the age of ten.

Of course, if none of that had happened, I’d still have been passionate about languages and travel. Maybe I’d have even still studied physics. But I have no idea what would have happened. I can see a clear line from this musical incident that led me down the path I’m on now.

If I hadn’t attempted to be so persuasive in that moment, it seems likely that things would be very different. Not necessarily better or worse. Just different.

Whatever stage of life we’re at, we multipotentialites often struggle to decide what to do. The idea that tiny decisions we made in the past could be affecting us today might be frightening. How were we supposed to know the consequences?!

The simple answer is that we aren’t. We can’t possibly know the consequences of every little decision we make.

Most have no consequences. Some have huge consequences. We can only accept that we can’t tell the difference, and relax.

Be Open to Possibilities

Of course, not every turning point is small. Dramatic moments do exist, whether in the form of job interviews, marriage proposals, or sudden fortune dropping an opportunity into our laps.

But even these dramatic turning points have their roots in tiny organic moments. We meet someone, we try something new… and a chain reaction begins, which may lead to major life changes later.

We can’t force this. Running around searching for inconsequential moments that lead to new lives would only send us mad. It’d be like trying to find the exact butterfly in the Amazon whose wings flapping caused the rainstorm I got caught in the other day.

However, we can make these moments more likely. The only way to miss out is to be closed off to possibilities. Perhaps we ought to open our eyes more, and say yes more often.

Many times, nothing will come of it. But sometimes we’ll stumble onto the first step in an interesting – and maybe life-changing – chain reaction.

Can you trace any surprising turning points in your life story? Let us know in the comments!

neil_authorbioNeil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety. Along with writing more books, he puts his time into standup comedy, computer programming, public speaking and other things from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question “so, what do you do?” and is worried that the honest answer is probably “procrastinate.” He would like it if you found him at and on Twitter as @enhughesiasm.


  1. Dear Neil:

    I just about had a life-changing moment reading this article when, at the description of “Year Five” I started laughing so hard I nearly choked on my Vietnamese noodle dish.

    I went back to school about five years ago to study horticulture after walking through one of Seattle’s urban forests, I nearly came to tears because I didn’t know the names of the native trees I’d grown up with (I was 40.) Today I’m co-authoring a book with one of my former instructors.

    Thank you for the article Neil!

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Hahaha, I’m glad you didn’t choke – that’s not the kind of life-changing moment I’m hoping to encourage :D

      (Laughter is welcome, though!)

      Wow, that’s incredible that your thoughts about trees during a walk led you to write a book!

      That’s exactly the kind of moment I was hoping to hear about. I find the thought of those moments inspiring – even if we don’t recognise them at the time, they can have powerful effects. Thank you for sharing :)

  2. Anna says:

    Loved this! Unintentional consequences! Mine was saying yes to a neighbor when they asked if they could buy a cake for me. It led to being a pastry chef and a sugar artist and a professor and a recipe developer and a researcher and a speaker and a convention director….we’ll see where it ends before it runs it’s course.

  3. Monica says:

    I was a public school assistant principal when, through mutual friends, I met the most handsome and charming man I’d ever seen. On his arm was a beautiful toddler girl. Her dad and I connected quickly, and the toddler threw the worst tantrum I had ever seen (and I had one of my own and had been around literally hundreds during my career) for the next 90 minutes. He explained that she had just been diagnosed with autism.

    Life intervened, he and I married, then he died of cancer. I continued to raise this child of my heart (her mom was out of the picture) and continued my career. The secondary moment occurred in December 2007 when I realized that I was DONE with public schools. I was serendipitously offered a fellowship to study autism, and I am now a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. I refer to myself as “Monica, TSI: Tantrum Scene Investigator.” The toddler is now 22, living in a group home, and we see each other on weekends.

    Deciding to stay at the dinner table with a screaming toddler and her wonderful father continue to change my life.

    Thanks for your thoroughly delightful storytelling, Neil!

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Wow. Incredible. One meeting with HUGE consequences – not just for yourself, but for everyone you touch through your work. How fantastic that you’re now studying and working with autism! Thank you so much for sharing :)

  4. Rebekah says:

    Impeccable timing on this post!!
    I’ve viewed my entire life as a series of these life-changing moments. (I refer to my life as a puzzle, and these moments represent, for me, another “piece of the puzzle” that triggers the placement of several more)…
    I won’t bore you with all my pivotal “puzzle pieces”; but rather I want to share with you an internal battle I was dealing with this morning while having coffee. I was thinking about how I don’t want to force my life in specific direction; I’ve always been patient and trusted the universe… but this morning, I was loosing my faith…
    You see, 1 year ago I quit a very well-paying, structured, stable, and FRUSTRATING job with the idea that “I don’t fit into that box” and “I’m going to do my own thing”…
    This morning, 1 year later, that “thing” still has not come to fruition, the financial cushion that once existed is depleted, and in exactly one month, there is a two week vacation planned to travel from Ohio across the US to visit Colorado, Yellowstone N.P. and Glacier N.P. – a “bucket list” vacation… Problem is… I have no idea how I am going to finance it. This morning, I was thinking about giving up on my faith, and the universe… and forcing something…
    BUT, then I read this post…

    Not exactly a puzzle piece… OR, Is it…? – A little nudge to keep the faith?

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Wow, Rebekah – sounds like a tough decision! I hope whatever you choose works out well for you. Sometimes it’s all about keeping the faith, sometimes it’s all about maintaining stability until the time is right. Hope the next life-changing moment appears soon and is very positive for you :)

  5. Virginia says:

    This is awesome! My moment was saying yes to meet an old friend that I hadn’t seen in over a year. 6 weeks from that meeting we were engaged, and we’ve been married for 3 years now :)
    If you’re a How I Met Your Mother fan, there is an episode that shows moments/decisions that change your life. It’s called “Right Place, Right Time.” One of my favorites!

  6. Jim Peterson says:

    Great story Niel! My motto through life has been the definition of luck, to be prepared when opportunity presents itself. My friends and family marvel at my good luck in life and I tell them that they to just need to be prepared for what will present itself. Some of them will be very life changing. My current job came when I talked to the local building official who as it turns out we grew up in the same small town. He offered me a job that day. One just never knows.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Thanks Jim :) Yeah, I’ve heard that you create your own luck by being open to opportunities, just like you say. How funny that a single conversation and connection led to a new job opportunity – openness wins again!

  7. Dennis Topel says:

    This story rings with me also. I think this is where my multipotentality started. I started playing the Baritone which is a small tuba, from there I went on to learn to play the trombone, French horn, tuba, trumpet, clarinet, and the flute. I guess I got bored playing just one instrument and moved on to others.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Haha, I love it! I did play the trombone for a while but it turned out the tuba was more my natural home in a brass band. Good on you for broadening your skills.

  8. Shell says:

    This is for Rebekah,

    Sending you many positive thoughts that the answer will come to you soon. Maybe it will be somewhere on your trip. ?


  9. lulu says:

    Signed up for an e-course on how to sell my artwork online; thru that teacher I learned about Emilie and Puttylike multipods. I meant to stay focused on the selling my work online course but got sidetracked by some other course on writing and self-publishing books; finished my first draft but having LOTS of anxiety about editing and revising… came across Emilie’s newsletter email that led me to this article… Just bought your book so now I can read it, settle down my anxiety, and finish my book, leading to who knows where next! How’s that for a turning point?!

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