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.