What Ifs and Regrets

One of my least favorite forms of regret is found in the “what if” question, namely when someone speculates on how their life would have been different, usually for the better, if they had made another decision at a crucial juncture of their life. I find that this type of thinking is harmful, holding a person to the past, distracting them from the present, and keeping them from positively stepping toward the future. I also feel this type of thinking is entirely self-serving, meaning to affirm their preset conclusion that their life or their current path is flawed.

But you see, these types of thoughts are illogical. For example, say you wish you went to University X instead of University Y. If only you had gone to University Y! You would have had access to better majors, you would have avoided a terrible college relationship, and you would have ended up with a better job by now.

The above assumptions are ridiculous to make. We assume the path of the past based on the situation and knowledge of the present. In no way would going to University Y mirror your experience at University X save for positive results. That is what we wish would have happened with our lives, and to affirm our negative outlook on our real path we imagine this.

If you went to University Y you might have been hit by a bus crossing the street. You might have gotten in a car wreck driving there. You might have gotten into a devastating fight. You might have found out that the new major was the worst thing ever, changed to yet another major, and graduated far later than planned. You might have met people who influenced you to transfer to college Z. You may have hated college Y and all the people there, especially since you had terrible roommates who prevented you from meeting your potential.

See what I mean? Of course it is possible that another decision may have been positive for you, but with the countless variables that present themselves in existence, you just can’t know. We can’t put the world into a box, put forth a few conditions, and see how it plays out. Existence and life and unpredictable. Going to University Y might have been a good idea, but it also might have killed you. Going to University Y may have gotten you a better job, but maybe you’d miss out on meeting the love of your life. We can’t pretend to have a grasp on the ever changing chaotic structure of existence, and to regret and speculate on what ifs is only to waste time padding our pity.

We hold ourselves back when we live in the past. We must take the lessons learned, appreciate the time and knowledge we have obtained, and use these to plan for a better future. You can’t control what happened, but you have an impact on what is happening now and where you are taking your life. Relish that and enjoy life every day.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “What Ifs and Regrets

  1. Absolutely agreed, and nicely articulated. There are just too many variables to sit and ponder the past.

  2. Thanks for the feedback. I find too often people sink into this way of thinking, and it saddens me to see how they dig themselves into an even deeper hole. Glad to hear others appreciate my thoughts.

  3. Thanks for following my blog. I spent a lot of time exploring the shoulda. woulda. coulda reaction to like. Found moving ahead as if each second was the last is the best way. Nice post.

  4. greyzoned

    i have gotten lost in the What ifs before. Your perfect example of going to college somewhere else; also with regard to moving: what if I would’ve stayed in DC instead of moving to TX? What if I would’ve chosen Pittsburg instead of DC? What if I would’ve stayed in journalism instead of getting into advertising? and on and on it can go. I wonder sometimes when these What Ifs pop up, but then I’m brought back to the reality of my present: if I had done things differently, I wouldn’t have met my ex (who is now my best friend), I wouldn’t have been introduced to greyhounds, I wouldn’t have opened a bar, etc etc. The What Ifs are okay to ponder so long as you come back to the gratitude of what you have now. Thanks for a great article.

  5. Thank you John and Greyzoned for sharing your experiences and insight. I think it is important to live well now, focusing on what we can control and impact. As Greyzoned alluded to, keeping the past in perspective and having gratitude for how life is presently is key. We can learn a great deal from the past, both about the world and ourselves, but it’s important to apply what we’ve learned to grow as an individual rather than look back and yearn for another opportunity.

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