What If?

By Madeline Powell
Distinguished Young Woman of Alabama for 2014


 “What if?” is the best and worst question to ask yourself. What if you had taken that chance? Or what if you had never taken that risk?

Two years ago, I had convinced myself I wasn’t going to participate in the Distinguished Young Woman Program because I thought I wouldn’t win. I looked at the task laid before me and thought “what if I fail?” Thankfully, I had a best friend to convince me that “what if I fail” is not the question that should define my life. It’s not always about winning. Sometimes it’s just about trying. It’s about dedicating yourself to hard work in order to eliminate those fears. This program brought so much to my life in the form of friends, my own personal development, and scholarship dollars, but the greatest rewards have not come with a dollar sign in front of them.

One of my favorite movies, Letters to Juliet, touches on the power of the “what if”…

“What” and “if”, two words as non-threatening as words come. But put them together side-by-side and they have the power to haunt you for the rest of your life: “What if?”…

Looking back, I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I hadn’t participated in Distinguished Young Women. Now I find myself asking, what if I hadn’t taken the chance? The answer to that question is much scarier than any fears of failure I had entering this program. If I hadn’t taken this chance, I wouldn’t have friends in my life now that have changed my life so drastically. I would never have gotten the chance to learn so much about myself. Thankfully, I never have to wonder what the answer to that question is. I took the chance to push against the possibility of failure. Even though I didn’t fail, if I had not won a single award, I would have much preferred a “yes” to the question “what if I fail?” than an “I don’t know.” It wouldn’t be failure at all because at least I would have had a definitive answer to my question. I would have succeeded at eliminating a “what if” from my life. I wouldn’t be wondering about what could have been. I have given my best effort, and I have discovered, as I think you will too if given the chance, that the “what if I succeed?” is a much more credible question than “what if I fail?” That’s what it takes to grow. The ability to push yourself beyond the fear of failure is not an ability easily learned. The Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2013, Nicole Renard, started a #dostuff initiative. She encouraged people to simply do the stuff that they loved or wanted to do. It takes a simple decision to do stuff. All it takes is a “yes” to eliminate one “what if” from your life. All it takes is accepting the “what if I succeed” into your life. All that matters if you’ve taken control of your life from the “what if?”. And if you do your best, if you do all that you can to be your best self, no “what if” will ever stand in your way.


Madeline Powell is a college freshman at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama majoring in Biology. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Madeline was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Alabama for 2014. Learn more about Madeline here!

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