Adolf Hitler was nearly an artist before he got rejected from art school. Dolph Lundgren has a master's degree in chemical engineering but chose to go into direct-to-DVD action movies instead. And they're not the only ones; somewhere, there's an alternate reality completely different from ours, where the following people went with their first career choice (for better or worse).
Fidel Castro's passion for baseball is often seen as just another dictator's eccentricity, like Hitler's love for Disney characters or Saddam Hussein's romance-novel-writing hobby. Actually, it was much more than that: Not only did the human embodiment of international communism play the most American of sports in his youth, but he was close to moving to the U.S. and pitching for the Giants.
"Play ball! I mean, uh, power to the people and stuff ..."
Back in the 1940s, Cuba was just a sunny little country with a U.S.-backed government, and Fidel Castro was just a student at the University of Havana who loved baseball. Castro was a pitcher for the university's baseball team, and he threw such a great curveball that Major League Baseball teams began sending scouts to check him out. The Pittsburgh Pirates even sent a few of their players to test out the young pitcher, which resulted in Castro striking out future Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg.
In 1949, the then New York Giants offered Castro a juicy contract that included a $5,000 signing bonus to come play baseball in the United States. Castro was already politically active and critical of U.S. imperialism at this time ... and yet he still took several days to think over the offer, consulting with his friends and family about what he should do. Eventually he turned down the contract, which took the Giants completely by surprise: Apparently, he was the first Latin American to say no to them.
"Thanks, but being a communist dictator pays pretty well, too, it turns out."
Ten years after turning the Giants down, Castro had overthrown Cuba's U.S.-backed government and was ruling the country himself. As we mentioned, he was already into Marxism while in college, but seriously, who wasn't? The main difference is that instead of putting Che Guevara on his T-shirts, Castro actually went on to hang out with the guy.
Our point being: There's a chance Castro would have said yes. Without him, or with a leader who was less charismatic, less stubborn and less impossible to kill, the Cuban Revolution would have failed and the Cold War would have unfolded differently. Keep in mind that the closest the world has come to a nuclear war happened when the Soviets thought it would be a good idea to put missiles in Castro's Cuba. In fact, some have pointed out that the successful resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis is what emboldened the U.S. to jump into the Vietnam War.
"We're on a roll; what's the worst that could happen?"
Tony Blair is the longest-serving prime minister (1997-2007) in the history of the United Kingdom's Labour Party, the first Labour prime minister in 18 years and the second youngest person to become PM ever. Whatever you think of the guy, that's pretty impressive -- of course, this wasn't what he really wanted to do with his life. Blair's original ambition wasn't going into politics: It was being a rock star. More specifically, Mick Jagger.
He's the one with the permanently fixed grin and the fur coat.
Back in the 1970s, young Blair went as far as to dress and prance around like Jagger. Lots of teenagers dream of being famous rock stars (only to become something boring like an accountant or a world leader), but Blair did more than just fantasize about it: At age 19, he moved to London on his own in order to break into the music industry, actually having some success as a band promoter. Blair started taking on smaller bands in the London area and doing everything from driving them to gigs to presenting them onstage to fetching burgers, but it worked, and he did make some money.
Not enough for shoes or shirt buttons, apparently.
Some band members saw Blair as "quite pushy" and "over-friendly," but that's precisely what made him good at the job. After a year of building up credibility, it was time to move on to bigger things: In 1972, Blair booked a 400-seat auditorium in London for a show and talked to the manager of the band Free about playing there. The only problem was that the manager wanted 25,000 pounds up front, and Blair couldn't afford that. And so instead of Free, Blair hired another not-quite-so-famous band called Fruitbat McTang -- only 60 people showed up for the gig, and most demanded their money back.
Actually, yeah, that sounds better.
If Blair had managed to score something better than Fruitbat McTang for his first major gig, he probably wouldn't have given up on rock promotion a few months later to go into Oxford University. Once there, Blair joined a band called Ugly Rumours, but they broke up after six gigs. Blair has said that he "definitely wanted to carry on with the band," but had to settle for a career in politics.
Without Blair and his efforts to bring the leftist Labour Party to the center, there's a chance the Conservatives would have continued winning elections, and today the United Kingdom would be the setting for V for Vendetta (with cyborg Margaret Thatcher as Leader). Or maybe Labour would have won with a more liberal candidate ... one less willing to follow the U.S. into Afghanistan and Iraq. And this is without even counting the massive impact Tony Blair as a rock promoter would have no doubt had on the world of music and pop culture.
"What? Sure, I'll accept those 16 Grammys on behalf of Fruitbat McTang."
Jimmy Stewart was such a huge star 50 years ago that even if you've never seen a movie starring him (that is, "never turned on a TV during Christmas"), you still know his face. He starred in cinematic hits of pretty much every major genre except porn, but it turns out that acting wasn't his first career choice: Originally, he wanted to go into the far more exciting world of architecture.
Stewart's dream was to be an architect, and he actually went to Princeton to become one. He wasn't just farting around there, either: His thesis on airport design was so impressive that he was given a full scholarship for graduate school. In 1932, Stewart graduated near the top of his class ... the only problem was that this was in the middle of the Great Depression, and his prospects for finding work in his chosen profession weren't looking so great.
As Stewart himself put it, "Nobody was putting up any buildings at the time. Yet the theater was exploding." And so he went into acting, not because it's what he really wanted to do for the rest of his life, but simply for job security. Stewart had done a little theater at Princeton, but didn't seriously devote himself to it until he realized the whole architecture thing wasn't working out. Soon he moved to New York and appeared in a bunch of plays. His work gained him some screen tests at Hollywood studios, whom he impressed despite having little formal training.
Not sure if he's acting here or flashing gang signs.
Despite apparently not being that much into it, Stewart became a film star (in the meantime taking a long break to kick ass in World War II), becoming famous for his collaborations with directors like Frank Capra, Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Mann. In fact, many of his most legendary roles were written specifically for him, and by the time he started doing Westerns with Mann, he had enough control that he was the one who chose the director. This means that if things had gone Stewart's way, there might be a few nice buildings somewhere, but we'd be short several classic movies, and It's a Wonderful Life might have starred, say, John Wayne.