What if I had said “I love you” back, and just accepted his conditions? What if I had worked slower, and produced a more average result that didn’t threaten my boss? What if I’d moved to a different part of the state after my divorce? What if I’d pulled my tiny nest egg out of that investment fund when I wanted to, and didn’t listen to my friends? What if I’d said no to driving to the library the day of the accident? What if, what if, what if?
Do you second guess all your major decisions, and hundreds of tiny ones? What if you didn’t?
Hindsight is 20/20… and then some
We all know the expression that hindsight is 20/20, that when looking at the past, we see more clearly than when looking at the present or the future. Once a deed is done, and the dust has settled, of course we see with clarity.
But when it comes to personal lessons, we view what is past with greater than normal vision (20/20) – we are hyper-aware of the unanticipated results, and often, critical of ourselves for what we couldn’t have known.
It is only with time that we can truly assess our losses and their impacts. Beating ourselves up over what we cannot change accomplishes nothing, except exacerbating a perception of the world that fills us with bitterness.
Living in regret
I’ve spent months, sometimes years, living in regret. Worse – not only punishing myself over actions and decisions that were within my control, but far more that were not. Living in regret may be part of the grieving process when you lose a loved one, an illusion you needed, or a piece of yourself that is beyond regaining. But staying there, in that place of regret, or habitually blaming yourself for whatever goes wrong in life is not an answer. Living in regret erodes belief in yourself, and worse.
Anger and doubt, particularly turned inward, will eat you alive emotionally and physically. Eventually, will living in regret lead to dying in regret? What if we didn’t allow that to happen?
The story of my life
We all make bad choices. We also make thousands of terrific choices and never pat ourselves on the back for those. We don’t stop to analyze them or celebrate them; we keep going, accepting their happy, healthy, or measured results. We aren’t basking in regret (or self-flagellation), so these moments go unnoticed.
Life happens. Hardship hits us all, and it’s often beyond our control: accidents, injuries, painful endings to relationships, disappointments in those we count on, problems with health, work, money. When we say, ruefully, “it’s the story of my life,” isn’t it really the story of anyone’s life?
A bit of if only or what if is natural as we pull ourselves back – or perhaps more accurately, forward – to a new normalcy. It may be a time-consuming process, following a life-altering event. But living inside an impression that the story of your life is about your bad choices? Constantly blaming yourself for troubles, large and small? Living in what if, where you’re the target of your own bitterness? What purpose does it serve?
What if we put self-doubt and recriminations away, letting go of a habit that isn’t helpful? What better time than at the start of a new year – and a new decade?
- There are mistakes in judgment; we need to learn our lessons from those choices.
- There is the upside: the what if that concerns imagining a future – and that’s another matter altogether.
- What if you looked back enough to cull wisdom from experience?
- What if you looked forward to small, positive changes and to new goals?
What if we celebrated our choices that are turning out well? Perhaps there’s a great woman you’re taking the time to know, though she doesn’t fit your “type.” Or the baby is sleeping through the night now that he’s on formula. Maybe your teenager is taking on more responsibility because you’ve given it to him, or you’ve finally completed the master’s degree despite the fact your family thought you couldn’t do it.
What if we congratulated ourselves for getting through trying days during painful transitions? For persisting in fighting our way back from injury, depression, financial disarray, or personal loss?
Sometimes, making it through the day is a triumph. What if we acknowledged that, and started the new year in the light of all we are and all we accomplish that is good, rather than past events we cannot change?
© D A Wolf