This is an excerpt from the novel I am only partially working on at the moment. It will come after the book I am mainly working on at the moment, so it's a long way off.
There are some things about yourself that you will never know: strengths, weaknesses, what you could have done, what you should have done. You probably wonder about these things from time to time, especially when you find yourself in unfulfilling or badly paid employment. Surely, you think, you could be doing something more (however it is you define "more") than creating spreadsheets. And probably you're right. Though, maybe you shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the value of a good spreadsheet. After all, take a look at any great empire and you'll find that efficiency was usually at the heart of its success.
Indeed, more often than not, the answer to these would-have/should-have/could-have queries is a simple "no." Such as when you're watching football and think: "I wonder if I would have made a good pro quarterback."
No. No, you would not. You have terrible aim, you are no good at making decisions under pressure, and -- due to a slight genetic defect -- both your right and left clavicle are particularly thin and prone to break easily. You don't know this because you've never been hit hard enough. However, one slightly high tackle from an NFL defensive lineman would snap your collarbones like autumn twigs. The pain would be excruciating and the injury would take a full nine months to heal properly. You would miss training and preseason of the next year. During which time, local and national press articles, fans' Facebook and Twitter updates, and an unfortunately popular YouTube video would paint you as brittle and a detriment to the team. The backup quarterback, meanwhile, would show incredible promise and you would not get a chance to return to the field until late October. When you finally did, rusty and lacking confidence, you would throw an interception during your first drive. You would be given exactly three plays to redeem yourself (the following drive) before being unceremoniously benched. Your team would finish 5-11 for the season and somehow the blame would be placed on your (frail) shoulders. The next year, you would be traded to some god-awful expansion team in the Southwest, where the fans are so bandwagon they're not even sure of the team's name. After two more dismal seasons you would retire, open a barbecue restaurant, and spend the rest of your days serving as spokesman for a used car dealership and trying to hit on teenage girls at charity golf events. You are far better off sticking to spreadsheets.
It is, of course, good that you wonder these things, though. It is good to examine one's life, to try to identify and pursue the most fulfilling path. So, it is right to try to find yourself, to try to figure out the most likely should-have scenario for your life and act upon it. Introspection, journaling, yoga, therapy, woodland retreats, Carl Hiaasen novels, etc. -- these are things you can use to learn about yourself. Other truths may be revealed by accident: through adversity, for instance. But still some things you will just never know.
John, for example, did not know -- would never know -- that he would have made an excellent commander for the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet. His skills served him well enough as an author; they put food on the table. But they could have better served his country. His ability in creating characters, designing their lives and histories, and balancing all this in his head could have been transposed to the tasks of diplomacy and strategy.
This life path, however, would never once occur to him. It was a path that would not even formulate in his imagination were someone to suggest it. Being out on open water made him anxious. Once, taking the ferry from Cork to Swansea, he had found himself being unreasonably cautious -- alert to the location of every lifeboat, and calculating in his head how many seconds it would take to sprint to each one. Additionally, he possessed a general dislike of authority. These are things that could have been easily overcome, however. And he could have been one the most respected military minds the world had ever seen. But John didn't know that.
Another thing he didn't know -- would never know -- was that he was anorexic.