Today, to offset the loneliness and distance this lockdown is imposing on us, I had a video call with two of my dearest friends. We shared a sort of “online breakfast” together. It has lifted my mood in a way that was much needed. And in between bites of toast and a sip of coffee, one of them asked a familiar question. “If you could go back in time and change one thing in your life, what would it be?”
I have heard this question, along with several variations of it, many times. As I am sure you have too. It is only natural. People often wonder what would have happened if only they had done something different, chosen another path, had dared to say yes to something they really wanted to, but were too afraid to take the risk.
We often drown ourselves in regret and it is easy to look back and imagine how much better things could have been if only… I used to be the queen of “if only”! I blamed myself for making all the wrong decisions and ending up with a life that I had no desire to live. It was crystal clear to me that if I had been better, wiser, smarter, I could have gone down a very different path that would surely have made me happy. I would think “what if” and my imagination would fill in the gaps for me.
I don’t believe that anymore.
Back to the breakfast, my friend Anne said she would have taken a job opportunity that she passed on years ago. She now believes she could have had a much better career, a more fulfilling one, if only she had been willing to move to a different city. My friend Iris, on the other hand, immediately said she wouldn’t have allowed John into her life. John is her ex-boyfriend, a man that hurt her deeply and she is still struggling with the emotional scars he left her to deal with. Then they both looked at me.
I started off with a noncommittal “I’m not sure” but that didn’t seem to satisfy. So, I clarified. I don’t think I would change anything, per se, maybe I would like to have done more than I did, sure. I would’ve liked to go back and further my studies, at the same time as I worked. After all, there was a time in my life when I was making good money and still had plenty of free time. I could’ve also done some more charity work, occupied my time more efficiently than I did. I would have also liked to have been kinder to some people, maybe let down my guard a bit, taken the chance to tell someone I loved them.
But I wouldn’t change anything that I have actually done. For one reason: the people. Everyone I met and loved throughout my life were only there because of the choices I made that lead me to them. If I hadn’t moved abroad when I did, I wouldn’t have met some of the most incredible people I ever had the pleasure to know. If I hadn’t stuck to that crappy job for so long, I wouldn’t have made friends that I now know will be with me for life.
Sure, some of my choices were bad, I made mistakes. But I learned from them and I’m still here. Who’s to say that a different choice, the one that seems so bright and shiny right now, wouldn’t have been just as terrible or worse?
If Anne had taken the job opportunity all those years back, she wouldn’t be a mom right now. Not to the beautiful little girl she has. After all, she met her husband at her current job. Who knows what kind of life the other job would have given her, successful and fulfilling as it may appear in her fantasies? And if Iris hadn’t let John into her life, she would have saved herself some heartache, sure, but she wouldn’t have met me, she wouldn’t have gotten her apartment, she wouldn’t have been close to her family when something really important happened (that I know she is definitely glad to have been around for).
We all seem to believe there’s some other version of ourselves out there that could be living a better life. All it would take is a magic wand, or some sort of time machine, to take us back in time with all the knowledge we have now so we could change that one thing… or two.. or three.. We dwell on what we could have done better, all the while forgetting to look at all the things we managed to accomplish so well!
Are there things I would have done differently, if I had known then what I know now? Sure. But maybe it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I sure am glad I got to go on that trip to New York. I am glad I got to meet some fantastic people I call friends. I am glad I did a year of Erasmus when I was at university. I am glad I lived abroad.
The only things I really missed out on was when I was too depressed, too afraid or anxious to look outside and allow myself to live. I don’t think that is something I could change though. I had to experience it, in order to understand what I know now as a part of me.
If I could go back in time and change one thing in my life, what would it be? Nothing. I am done obsessing about a past that can not be undone. I choose to learn from my mistakes. Past, present and future mistakes alike! I don’t think life is meant to be perfect. I think I just need to learn how to accept all the bad that comes along with the good and decide where to focus more of my energy on.
I have read, many times, about the multiverse theory. That maybe, somewhere out there, a plethora of parallel universes exist in which all these different versions of ourselves are living different lives. They made different choices, took different paths, and became different people with different outcomes. There’s something very comforting about that idea. At the very least, it is intriguing to wonder what would have happened if… But I’ll leave that for those other worlds out there. In this world, there is only one life. The only thing we can do is try to live it the best we can, mistakes and all, and try to keep moving forward. And, yes, sometimes this is easier said than done. But we have to try!