The world of “If Only” is a fantasy world I sometimes live in. It is a very dangerous place and nothing good can come from visiting, especially if I stay too long. If Only is a close cousin to Regret so I try very hard not to say those two toxic words. Yet I still find myself thinking, “If only I had done…..” or “If only I didn’t do such and such, or “If only I were rich”…..—you can fill in the blanks and any way you look at it, you end up with remorse over some missed opportunity, or a regret over something you did that you are sorry for. It’s too bad that we can’t just turn the clock back or hit the undo button on a decision we’ve made. We are all human and sometimes we don’t always think things through when we decide to embark on a journey. A case of the “If Onlys” can also lead to envy and jealousy especially when you cannot afford some material item that your wealthy friend can. Then you say, “If only I had married better” or “If only I had not been so stupid to divorce my husband so quickly”. The thing is that whatever is done or was not done, you have to live with the consequences or live with the reality of a situation you cannot control. Acceptance and the Serenity Prayer go a long way when I am living in that fantasyland of “If Only.” My options are to “accept the things I cannot change” and “have the courage to change the things I can” and to “have the wisdom to know the difference.” Since we know we just cannot press the delete button on bad choices, the sooner we realize we cannot change them, we can move forward and create a better life based in the reality of now. “If only” keeps you mired in the past or keeps you in a perpetual state of jealousy, depression, regret, and remorse. Either way, you are stuck and personal growth ceases.
I think it is normal to have regrets in your life. I don’t know one person who has not wanted to go back in time and correct some of the more glaring “mistakes” of their lives. Yet, if you ever saw Back to the Future, hurtling back in a DeLorean, to a time where we feel our life went off track (and actually take that job, or ask out that girl, or go out with that boy) is very tempting. The problem is if we altered our past, everything else would shift and the entire course of our life would be different. In Back to The Future, Marty attempts to change the course of his father’s life and discovers that people existing in the present, disappear. This of course is fantasy, but the truth is that you just cannot press the UNDO button and edit your life. Your past is your past and is, after-all, what makes you who you are. The trick is taking those regrets and using them as a learning experience rather than continually berating yourself. I was not exactly mother-of-the-year, and I have to admit it. I don’t think I ever really learned how to be a nurturing human being, coming from a very dysfunctional family. Although my Mom was affectionate, there was a real disconnect in my family and I literally could not wait to “get the hell out” of my house. To escape, I began carousing, using drugs and alcohol to give me the “happiness” and wholeness that I did not feel at home—trying to fill that hole in my gut. While working in Korvettes in Manhattan, I met my first husband, my hero, whom I looked upon as my rescuer. When I got pregnant, I was not ready to be a wife and mother, and consequently I was a dismal failure at both. However, I have learned that, presented with choices, it is virtually impossible to navigate those waters without choosing something we later consider a mistake. As the saying goes, “Acceptance is the key to everything” and I truly believe it; acceptance of both past and present situations we have no control over. In the past 18 years, I have tried to make amends to family members, both living and deceased (in the case of my parents). It does not totally absolve me from my actions, but it allows me to dig myself out of the regret graveyard. All I can do now is accept that not all my decisions were the best but they seemed right at the time. Growing and learning from bad decisions are how I try (and I say “try”) to handle my life’s choices rather than with regret, which is just a form of self-flagellation. Staying in regret will keep you mired in the past, and prevent you from moving forward in life.
Fate, does it exist and can you change it? In 1846, five different families, led by James Reed and George Donner, set out from Springfield, IL, on a 2500 mile trip to California with 9 covered wagons, looking for a new life. They relied on their leader who was enticed by a report of a new shorter route through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but unbeknownst to them, this shorter passage was untested. If you have read about this compelling tragedy, you know that there were numerous opportunities for the party to change their course, even being warned by the one who wrote about the new passage that it was impassible. Even when two others tried the passage and came back with news, again, that it was almost impossible to cover that route on foot, let alone by wagon, they still would not be deterred. Then they split off and some elected to stay behind for a few days, which was equally deadly because the weather turned cold and snow set in. It was basically one disaster after another, compounded by more bad decisions. In the end, over half of the 87 perished, and those who did survive, resorted to cannabilism of the corpses. I have been reading a book called The Slight Edge which explains that decisions you make in your life can affect you either positively or negatively, and can put you on a success or a failure curve. Ok, one bad decision made on one day, may seem innocuous, but if that decision is repeated over and over, day in and day out, it can change the course of your life. The trick is, recognizing this pattern and it is not easy. If I look back at my life, I can see so many opportunities I chose not to take; from not taking a scholarship to FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology – an acclaimed art school in Manhattan) offered by my uncle, to not electing to go cross country with a drug buddy I knew from work, instead getting married and having children. Who knows how my life would have been altered, but those decisions make you the person you are. Is it fate, kind of like the movie The Final Destination, where your future is set in stone, or are we able to change the course of our life by our choices? I’ve heard that we always have free will, but regardless, the trick is not to look back at your so-called bad decisions with regret, but learn from them, move forward and try to live your life as best as you can today.