Skepticism

AI: Turning points

Our fearless leader, Rebecca, announced this week that she’s up and leaving home and heading for greener pastures, hopefully that will eventually involve her being on the same continent as her husband.  This is a huge and wonderful move for Rebecca and it will, of course, change her life in many ways.

Everyone has turning points in their life. What was yours? What happened that changed the course of your life for better or worse? Did you plan it or did it just happen? How did you handle it?


The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

Masala Skeptic

Maria Walters (a.k.a. Masala Skeptic) has spent a lot of time in ‘furrin parts,’ including Hong Kong, Trinidad, and Pittsburgh. Although her passport is from India, she’s spent most of her adult life in the United States. She currently lives in Atlanta and has an unhealthy affection for science fiction, Neil Gaiman and all things Muppet.

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40 Comments

  1. For me, I can’t say there was a single turning point, more like several points that, over a period of time, changed my direction. Of them, they include:

    Going to Job corp

    Going to St. Paul

    Going to Northern VA

    Changing jobs

    Getting into the stock market

    Once everything was done, over a course of 4 years, I realized I was no where near where I started, and my life was headed in the opposite direction. (the good way)

  2. I will have to echo @infinitemonkey on this one. There’s not been any one thing but lots of things, gradually.

    Moving to NYC to attend school
    Literally forcing myself to be more observant of the world and people in it
    Volunteering in New Orleans
    Getting married
    Discovering Skepticism and a rekindled love for science

    I hope that I have little points like this for the rest of my life, sort of steering me along my path in life.

  3. I had always been a very play by the rules, tunnel vision on my ultimate career goal kind of guy. Then as I neared graduation from college, some friends asked me if I wanted to spend a month with them shooting a road trip movie. My initial thought was, “I can’t do that. I’m SUPPOSED TO get a job as soon as I graduate.” But then it just suddenly hit me, “Why CAN’T I do that?”

    Long story short, I did it. I spent a month on the road, exploring this country, making bonds and getting over a lot of my fears of the unknown big bad scary world. I look at that month as the turning point from “old me” to “now me”.

  4. A number of them, but I think the first major one was getting hospitalized in 5th grade.

    We were living in Korea and I was becoming increasingly unmanageable. Wild mood swings, a tendency towards violence (and, compared to my peers, I was pretty damn huge), the whole gamut. My folks sent me to a mental institution in Hawaii for a 45 day evaluation.

    Looking back on it, it was kinda cool. I got to go to Hawaii for 45 days in the spring. I had classes but Hawaiian schools were so horrible compared to the DoD schools I was in that it was like a vacation. Swimming, crafts, easy classes… occasionally getting put in the quiet room as punishment, but once they realized that, when I calmed down, I was reasonable, they’d even let me sit there with the door open for my couple hours of confinement (especially since I’d otherwise found the only blind spot in the room, and would just sit there).

    And, through the course of it, they realized I was bipolar. That got me on the right drugs to get myself under control. Probably, in the long run, kept me out of prison (because while I’m temporarily nuts, I can’t really argue that I didn’t know what’s right or wrong when I’d get into a rage). Hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but it was probably one of the major turning points in my life. Major hell on me and my parents emotionally at the time… I understand my younger brother insisted that my light be on when he went to bed while I was gone… but in the long run, probably one of the most useful things in my life.

  5. When I was 19, I had a decision. Stay in my crappy home town and be unhappy for the rest of my life, or move 2.5+ hours away to Phoenix to live with a girl I barley knew, without a car, with little money, and no real connections.

    9 years later, I am still here, independent, and happy. Best decision of my life.

  6. My life is one adventure after the next so there have been so many but I supose the following would have to be one of the bigger events.

    When I was 19 years old a very close friend commited suicide. Being that my father was never fond of being a father this friend that was about 15 years older than I was the father figure in my life, and I looked up to him.

    This man was very good to me, he took interest in my life, was able to tell me when I was doing wrong. For years I wanted to be like him.

    After he died we found out that he was a pedophile, and unknown to all his friends gay.

    No one had any idea, and most people that were friends with him admired him as much as I did. So we all were at a loss as to how to feel. There was an obvious sense of loss, but he had done terrible things.

    It was the first time in my life that I realized that life was not black and white. I had to recognize that while he was an important person in my life he also had a dark side, and hurt others. Also I had been brought up with the gay people are all out to get you and bad, yet he had never done anything to me. I get emotional just thinking about how much I miss the man I knew today.

    But from that time forward I realized that relationships are so much more complicated than I had thought. I learned that gay people were just people, and to this day feel silly that I ever thought otherwise.

    His death for ever changed me for the better, I feel bad for the family and the victims of his crimes, and even with the terrible things he did I still miss him.

  7. I moved to Israel in 1988, away from anyone I knew. It was the best decision I ever made. I grew up a lot, got my feet under me and learned to stand on them. I learned to use my voice and not be so afraid of what others thought. I also learned to shoot a gun. Good times.

  8. The biggest turning point in my life was when I got fired on my honeymoon. It’s been five years, and it’s not been all bad, but life hasn’t been wine and cheese either.

    I had been working in what I thought was my dream job, an entry-level position at a small trade group in my chosen field of writing and editing. The firing was not entirely unexpected, as I’d been told I wasn’t cutting the mustard, and had been given a chance to improve my work and redeem myself, but the timing definitely was.

    On the one hand, the experience took the wind out of my sails, completely. I was already nervous about writing as a career, and after this. I lost a lot of the confidence in my abilities to do that type of work, especially freelancing. As a result I shied away from it. I wound up taking a much lower-paying job that does not come anywhere near using my full capabilities.

    On the other hand, the relaxed nature of the day job has allowed me to pursue lots of hobbies, and to write for fun. I was able to pursue a love of food and cooking, and write for fun (television fan podcast). I’m not sure I would be enjoying my free time as much if I had to be working so hard in my day job.

    However, there are days I get restless, especially when I hear about other people buckling down, doing the work, following their dreams, making it happen. Like when Rebecca quit her schmob or a certain Jonathan Coulton song comes up on the iPod. It makes me wonder if drifting around with an open sail and no direction is really what I want to do. But, although I’ve rebuilt a lot of what I lost after the event in question, I have never been able to focus myself into one thing. I know that, if I could, I could be successful, but picking that one thing is so hard, for many reasons: having many interests, and plain old fear of failure being the to main ones.

  9. Taking physics in high school; discovering something that I really loved.

    Taking my last semester as an undergraduate to go to Los Alamos and do a Department of Energy program there. A bit of adventure. The day at Los Alamos when I came home to find a FAT envelope from Indiana University accepting me into the physics program. I didn’t know where I was going, but I was going somewhere.

    After finishing grad school, moving to live with my (now) wife and taking a job as a computer programmer instead of as a physicist. Somewhat scary; turned out great in the long run.

    Bought vintage car just before moving to wife’s new job. Car failed to make it to destination (various problems). Have been solving those problems one by one since.

    Accepted an invitation to teach a one-week class in Cape Town, South Africa last December. I discovered that I did like teaching, and am not bad at it.

    Three years ago, along with wife’s new job and new location, started getting pilot’s license, which I finished in August 2007. Awesome. Sepetember 2008 managed to join a flying club so that I can fly regularly.

    Took my second major cross-country flight to Dragoncon. (cool!) Saw Rebecca on a panel and got sucked in Skepchick. (Neat!) Got stranded in Atlanta an extra day because of thunderstorms in Tennessee (a good learning experience).

  10. I skated through high school, I was able to get decent grades without studying. I never had to work at it.

    It was a completely different story at university. Since I had zero study skills I just scrapped by my first year and dropped out in my second year.

    Suddenly I had to work to survive.

  11. I had to change jobs a few times, and each time it usually made an impact – didn’t realize how miserable I was at the previous job, for example, until I left.

    However, the biggest impact was when my husband of 25 years left us for his secretary. I say ‘us’ because it dramatically impacted my sons, even though they still saw their dad regularly. I struggled to make as little impact on them as possible, staying in the same house, trying to do the same things. As they got older, I started doing what I wanted to, and didn’t realize that he has discouraged so many of my desires to learn and do new things, even to the point of making fun of me for reading so much, or wanting promotions at work. I would have never gotten active in skepticism, even though I was reading the books for many years. I shudder to think of how he would have mocked me for wanting to go to DragonCon, for example.

    He was not a bad person, but obviously wasn’t the person for me.

  12. Mine was when Rebecca said she was moving to England. (Although as International Girl Overlord, does it really matter where her lair is?)

    Another one that sticks with me was “yeah, I think I’ll major in engineering instead of music.”

  13. I’m actually in the middle of one right now. After getting laid off from my job in March, I’m trying to make a career change.

    My sister is living with me and trying to get her life going again in a new city, and this is after I spent 17+ years becoming accustomed to living by myself.

    I’m 1.5 years into a long-term relationship after being pretty much perpetually single until I was 39. I hear myself talking to my girlfriend about marriage and kids and sometimes wonder if I’m talking about someone other than me since it seems so surreal.

    For me, it’s not a matter of what is changing. It’s what’s not changing! My life has been turned upside down…and I’m pretty sure I like it.

  14. Being pulled aside by my general chemistry professor who noticed I really liked the class and its lab, and being told by him that scientists weren’t all eggheads that worked their asses off and had 4.0 GPAs in school with all the credentials to go to MIT, and more important that *I* could be one.

    And now I am.

    Before I talked to him I was torn between majoring in graphic design, and joining the army (well, rather, the army was off the table after the war in Iraq began and started becoming an obvious quagmire by the time I was ready to make the call). Afterwards I switched my major to chemistry, and the rest is history.

  15. I’m kind of in one of those transitions right now. After years of crappy jobs I applied to grad school, got in and got a part time teaching job to boot. Lots of hard work but big time payoff. It’s too exciting for words :)

  16. I’m JUST finished a recent big-change. I don’t have a job, I have a career now. It’s in something that’s been a part of me since childhood (music), and it’s got nothing to do with my university education. I moved to one of the nicest places in Canada and I’m happier than I’ve been in many, many years.

  17. At 27 I had an engineering masters, I was a manger of a software development group and bought my own three bed roomed semidetached house with a nice back yard where my parents had planted roses, I had a great relationship of seven years with a guy I went to college with……..I used to stuff a pillow in my mouth to stop myself screaming because I was so incredibly and desperately bored.

    One Tuesday night in a pub at home in Ireland my boyfriend mentioned that maybe we should travel…….within three months I’d quit my job, rented out my house and we moved to Canada, bought myself some black leather thigh high boots, I learned to pole dance, worked with the deaf, learned ASL, learned to snowboard, got a tattoo down one side of my body, danced in a shop window in nothing but my underwear one Saturday and was paid (I’m no model), found the SGU podcast and Carl Sagan, learned to knit and then eight months later my previous job offered me a senior engineering position in the US, we got married one evening in Vancouver and moved here….and at last I really feel like me….all thanks to that one comment he made one night in a pub on a rainy Tuesday in Ireland.

  18. I’ve gone through three, and am at the start of number four right now.

    The first one was when, after 15 years of being a professional touring musician I quit that biz and became a nightclub deejay. Not a good move, but at that time a very necessary move.

    My second was when after being a nightcluib deejay for 6 years I quit drinking, quit drugs, quit being a nightclub deejay and went back, full time, to college for five years, summer semesters included. That was a necessary and very good change that brought me into the world of professional technical writing.

    The third change was when, after having been in the tech writing business on/off for about 5 years I was laid off, could not find work, and ended broke and homeless for a year. A bad change that augered nothing good, though I did get back into the tech writing biz two years ago.

    Now, after a couple of years on/off back in the tech writing business, I’ve been laid off again due to lack of clients. I am this time going to try to go back to school yet again and retrain for something that has some more stable future. I know that’s a truly vanishing goal these days, but it’s either that or homelessness and death.

  19. There were a number of crucial decisions in my life that were turning points for me, but the one that sticks out the most happened when I was just 6 years old. Although the choice was mine, at that age I had no idea that it would affect the rest of my life.

    I was a somewhat disruptive first-grader. My teacher went to the principal, and they spent some time talking with me and figured out that I could read and write and add and do all the things we were doing in class and that I was just bored. They approached my mother and asked if they could move me to second grade in the middle of the year. She left it up to me.

    You know what I said? Sure! As long as I still get to play in the first-grade area of the schoolyard (we were separated by grade.) And that was it. All the friends I made from then on were people in my grade, and that impacts every decision I’ve made. All the teachers I had, the programs I was in, even the fact that I wouldn’t have met my current boyfriend if I had started college just one year later… and all I cared about was the schoolyard. But hey, I was six.

  20. @geek goddess: “However, the biggest impact was when my husband of 25 years left us for his secretary. I say ‘us’ because it dramatically impacted my sons, even though they still saw their dad regularly.”

    I hear ya. I tell people that I divorced my father, and that gets funny looks. Well, legally my mom did, but really, we all did. That was a turning point of epic proportions in my life at 16!

  21. I’ve had a couple. First was when I met a group of people when I was 17 and started hanging out with them regularly (we gamed together, Vampire: the Masquerade :P). They were the first people I’d ever felt at home with, like I was a part of it. I still have a few very close friends. I feel like I came into myself with their help.

    I was in a tumultuous relationship for about 5 years. He broke up with me, I lost my job and my apartment and couldn’t get any assistance. I had to move back in with my mum and stepdad, which was in the far end of town. I found myself very depressed and lonely, and it took me almost a year to pull myself together, and when I finally did it made me a whole lot stronger.

  22. I was watching Passion of the Christ. People were openly weeping in the theater out of guilt at having forced their savior to endure such treatment.

    About the time when they showed a patch of skin and muscle get ripped away from Jesus’ side, revealing the ribs beneath, I had an epiphany. I didn’t believe I deserved any of that.

    I was supposed to say “Thank you, God, for sending your son to suffer in my place.” I was supposed to believe that I and everyone I know deserves to be butchered, tortured, flayed open like a cut of meat, made fun of while we died and then, AFTER all of that, spend an eternity being tortured because of the mistakes we’d all made in life.

    Bullshit, I said. I don’t deserve that. My parents don’t. Hell, my ex-wife doesn’t deserve that.

    And I realized that it’s evil to say we do. So I left the church. A few years later I realized I didn’t believe in gods anymore, either. Been a happier, healthier person ever since.

  23. Hello there! Another long time lurker, first time commenter. *wave*

    I wanted to share the biggest turning point in my life. Just over two years ago I was in a major car accident. Somebody ran a stop sign and changed my life forever. I ended up with multiple pelvic fractures, among other things, and was in extreme amounts of pain.

    Here’s where it gets good. Before the car accident, I regularly saw a naturopath. After the accident I quickly realized that I needed drugs to deal with that level of pain. I remember saying, “Naturopathic medicine worked when there was nothing wrong with me”. Yeah…exactly.

    That was around the same time my boyfriend introduced me to the SGU podcasts, and I haven’t looked back!

    So chronic pain from accident = life changing in a bad way, but finding skepticism = life changing in a very good way!

  24. My life took a sharp left turn on Monday, June 10, 1985.

    When I was little, the plant where my dad worked was sold off, and he was forced to take a pay cut and lose benefits and all that jazz. That went on for a few years, and then when I was ten, he got offered a position at his old employer. He’d get his old salary, benefits, and seniority. Happily ever after stuff.

    The only catch was that we’d have to move 100+ miles away, which we did in the summer of ’85.

    I’m really glad my dad took the job, because my life has changed in so many ways. We were Pentecostals in a small town near the Kentucky/West Virginia border who got plopped down in Cincinnati, Ohio. Hardly NYC, but a bigger, more dynamic place than we’d ever been.

    A year of church-shopping yielded nothing that my parents liked, and without family around to hound us, we just gave up looking. Replacing three church services a week (8 during Revival) with zero profoundly alters one’s perspective on religion.

    It took me until I was 28 to embrace skepticism and admit to myself I was an atheist. I’m not sure I ever could have done it if my family had stayed in that small town.

    I still go back there for the occasional holiday, wedding, or funeral. It never ceases to depress me how it manages to change in so many ways, and yet feel so utterly stagnant.

  25. The biggest turning point in my life so far came on April 14, 2009, when I moved from Atlanta, GA to Portland, OR, to go and live with a good friend I had known on the internet for eight years prior. She had suffered a major emotional upset and had been spending time in Ohio with her parents to recuperate. She IM’d me one day asking if I wanted to come visit her. I really didn’t want to go to Ohio (she refers to it as “stinkytown” XD), but eventually she convinced me and we hit it off so well that I decided to move Portland with her when she went back. I did, and don’t regret it at all. Living with someone as cool as her that has so many similarities to me (skeptic, humanist, atheist, into science, etc) is much nicer than living with my fighting parents all the time, and it has also forced me to do a lot of intellectual and emotional maturing. All in all I’d say it was probably the biggest turning point in my life, yes.

  26. So many of them…

    Being raised in an alcoholic family and not knowing how badly damaged I was until my 30’s…

    Realizing that most people’s life didn’t suck and that I had a family-linked illness that made my life appear to me to suck…(“Depression” is the enemy’s name.)

    Marrying…

    The birth of our first child…

    Realizing and admitting to myself that I really thought religion was a bunch of BS…(Two very seperate things. I was in denial about it after I realized it for quite some time.)

    Losing my career and going back to college at 41…and graduating three years later.

    Getting into my early 50’s and finding out that “midlife crisis” is a lot more than a jokey term for guys chasing their secretaries and buying Ferrari’s (props to geek goddess and nicole above for bringing up the subject in a way*). It’s painful as Hell for some of us and takes a long time to resolve.

    Taking my sailplane orientation ride last weekend…and seeing that even after 25 years out of the cockpit, I can still fly more or less safely…I think I’m going for my Sport Sailplane rating next spring…

    Hey, SicPreFix. I didn’t know you’re a tech writer too.

    And Craig is a pilot, too. Cool. Try a sailplane ride sometime. :-)

    *For those that are interested, e-mail me offline and I’ll tell you about it. It’s not pretty and shattered some illusions I held about myself. Perhaps telling my story will help others to avoid what I went through.

  27. I just plod along waiting for life to shower me with meaning and happiness. I find it hard to imagine anywhere in my biography where the sentence fragment “the turning point came when..” could appear and not look out of place.

    Except perhaps when I got a severance package and jumped from programmer/developer to high school teacher, but only my job changed.

  28. @QuestionAuthority:

    Hey, SicPreFix. I didn’t know you’re a tech writer too.

    Yarr. Though I think “was” may now be the operative word.

    Oh, and I used to co-pilot with my Dad a lot back in the 70s. He owned a Piper twin Commanche in which we used to fly all over the place. He also had his aerobatics (and aerobatics instructor) ticket.

    At 53 I am also going through something of a mid-life crisis, but unlike your unpleasant experience it is fairly mild. However, a principal part of it is that I do indeed feel the need for major changes. The unpleasant challenge is that I haven’t the first fucking clue what they should be nor how to bring them about. I am pretty darned nervous about the future.

  29. @Justin: Dude, I also had an epiphany during that scene! granted it was “I should play more Pain Killer, that is an awesome game” but hey, to each his own.

    I have no life, never dated, lived with my parents till I was nearly 28, and had never been properly challenged in school, including college. I am currently in the process of attempting to change all that, so this might be something of a turning point. We’ll see, won’t we.

  30. Seemed kind of inconsequential at the time but my car’s timing belt crapping out completely changed my life. Because of the belt breaking I ended up leaving school, losing my job, leaving my girlfriend at the time, losing almost all of my money and moving back to my hometown. This eventually led to me becoming a better person and meeting my wife so I definitely wouldn’t change anything if I could.

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