--A miserable nuclear physicist. Yeah, okay, so that's one of the most recently branched off universes. Still. I wasn't bad at it. I just hated it. And if timprov hadn't poked me to send "In the Gardens and the Graves" in to the Asimov Award contest, I'm not sure I'd have had the guts to follow my writing the way I needed to. (Needed: in order not to make myself and everyone around me crazy. This is not a matter of wants here.) "Nuclear physicist" may not be a common backup option, but it was mine.
--A starving MFA or history grad student. If my physics major had been less of an interesting challenge, I might have abandoned it earlier than I did instead of later as above. And the courses that interested me outside my own department were mostly history and English. (The math major required me to do too much Theory Crap. That's what I have markgritter and, to a lesser extent, timprov and seagrit for. Well, it's one of the things I have them for.) I probably would have drifted into Scando history. I could be writing a serious history of the 19th century Norden right this very minute.
--A ruthless political image consultant. No, seriously. I automatically critique the composition of political ads. When my friend David (in Oakland, to distinguish him from other Davids of importance) was half-joking that his sister should run for office, I immediately knew how to compose four or five different campaign fliers for her, the kind you get in the mail, plus the website for her. Her actual positions? Oh, those could be filled in later. Scary, scary, scary way to think. But if my grandmother had stayed involved in politics and the rest of the family with her, it's a plausible way for the influences to tip.
--An actuary. I worked as an intern for one, one summer. He had the BMW and the huge house and the weeks of vacation a year, and he spent hours sitting on the cabinet in my cubicle talking to me about science fiction. He had been a physics major. If he had to do it again, he said he'd have followed up on the physics instead. Which was a pretty big statement, but I saw what he meant, and fled. I would have been a person who has a hairstyle then, rather than just, y'know, hair. I would have been a person who wears suits and makeup.
--A linguist. Languages come easily to me. I like poking them. if I'd had to stay in high school a year longer, I probably would have picked up Spanish and German out of sheer boredom. (They would have been out of math courses for me to take, out of more advanced history or French or probably science. There's a reason I left a year early.) A year of all-language no-math would either have driven me into the arms of physics with huge sighs of relief or would have poked me into the "what language should I learn this year?" personality type.
The thing is, with all of these alternatives, my brain is adding "-slash-writer." Because this thing I do, it's what I do, not just what I'm doing. I found time for it through a physics major into the first year of physics grad school. I manufactured time for it. And before I could write fast enough I made my mom take dictation. So while I've had choices, they're hard to take very seriously now, because all it means to me right now is that I'd have ended up writing something different.
I didn't dream of being a rock star. I didn't dream of owning a funky cafe. I didn't even dream of making Nobel Prize caliber discoveries. When I let myself dream, I dreamed of being who I am right now, doing what I'm doing right now. Now I dream of doing it better next year.
That's not a bad thing to remember.