Sliding Doors

Moments matter. Our smallest decisions have long tails. Still we live only one day and move step by step

Photo by Elena Saharova on

he sees me, we are strangers again,   
and a rending music of desire and loss—
I don’t know him—courses through me,

Susan Browne, Chance Meeting

Looking Back

The film Sliding Doors wasn’t particularly good but it had a compelling idea at its heart, that certain moments shape our lives in ways we can’t predict. With twenty-twenty hindsight, last week I stumbled across perspectives on two sliding doors moments in my own life.

One of these moments was a business and the other a personal matter. The details of both are largely irrelevant. Like the train doors, that change a life in Sliding Doors, it was not the events but their consequences that shaped the potentially different paths. The decisions we make do not matter themselves so much in the moment. It is what we do with them day-by-day thereafter that matter more. Some decisions we let define us and others we do not give the requisite support.

Soren Kierkegaard made the point:

Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards

Soren Kierkegaard

Only with the distance of years do we appreciate the consequences of moments in our life. Yet those insights give us little more than guidance as to how to act into the future. We cannot change what was. We need not fear or worry about it. The past is done. We can only move on.

Living Forwards

If you asked me for the lessons from my two sliding doors moments last week, the conclusions are simple:

  • Don’t defer decisions: make them quickly and move on. Nothing is gained in the middle ground of indecision.
  • Invest behind the decisions you make: a decision alone is not enough.
  • Don’t push for perfect: A workable decision today is better than a perfect decision at some point in the future that may never come.
  • Start and then adapt

Our lives are busy, messy and disorganised. Life comes at us fast and we can’t always perceive the consequences of our decisions and our choices. We need to live forwards to our goals and from time to time take the moment to understand what has gone before, not to change it but to learn a little for the future.

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

Ferris Bueller, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

A global pandemic that has reshaped so much of our lives can feel like a moment of loss. We are grappling with fatigue, isolation, and all kinds of crises. There is no freedom from consequences. We have to embrace the now and live with it as unattractive as that may be. Importantly, as my lessons this week taught me, it may not be the big moments that act as sliding doors in our lives. Some times it is the smallest actions which play out with the biggest consequences. We can’t tell in advance what matters. We can only do what is best in each moment.

Let go of some of the stress that these moments are changing our lives. Of course, they are. Don’t focus too much on circumstances. Focus instead on backing your decisions. All we can do is make the best decisions each day and move step-by-step towards our goals as we understand them.

Or how a face, long lost, appears on a street swimming up out of a crowd, as if from a foreign element. What if not chance holds all these fast in its grip? The moment – great abyss of now: bearing the fruits of all moments before, ripe with disorganized creation

Ellen Hinsley, On a Short History of Chance

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