It’s The What Ifs That Will Ruin You

“I knew who I was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then.” ~Lewis Carroll

Spinning in a cycle of what ifs is like riding a merry-go-round

There is a show starting on television next week called Ordinary Joe. This is how the network describes it: “Life is all about the choices you make – and sometimes, what you do in a single moment can change everything.” In a preview for the show, we hear Joe’s voice say, “It’s only natural to wonder, What if?” We all have asked ourselves at one point or another how our life might have been different if we’d made a different choice. What if we’d pursued medicine like we wanted to instead of settling for an easier career path? What if we’d given that one boyfriend a second chance? What if we’d decided not to have children? There are a million what ifs any one person could come up with relating to their life. Let’s face it. All the what ifs we conjure up are infinitely more glamorous and desirable than our current reality because we’re dreaming, and that is the nature of dreams.

Most of my what ifs have centered around “what if I had realized earlier that the stories I had been told about myself as a child were just stories and not at all true reflections of who I was on the inside? What if I had grown up feeling loved, secure, and lovable, rather than alone, fearful, and unlovable?” These what if thoughts, in particular, have really done a number on me. They’ve taken the past I was handed and made it heavier than it already was. So, in addition to carrying around the mental weight of the trauma I endured, I was annoyed that I didn’t figure out until well into my mid-40s that there was trauma in the first place.

I’ve been thinking about this since I first saw the preview for Ordinary Joe. Here is what I have decided: what ifs may be natural, but they are not at all useful. When we make a decision, we are making it with the only skills we have at that time. Whatever knowledge or experience we’ve acquired up to that point figures into our choice. We couldn’t have done better for ourselves in the past because in the past we weren’t who we are now. When we think what if, we are imagining for ourselves in the past using our present experiences and mindset. We didn’t have our present knowledge and experience back then and, therefore, would likely have made the same choice we already made. There is no better outcome. We are where we are now because of where we were then. If you’re taking time to imagine what ifs with a more positive outcome, you’re basically in a fantasy. And while imagining a different, potentially more positive outcome (because who here wants to imagine a worse outcome) might be the kind of fantasy in which we would like to indulge, it’s only hurting us because it’s keeping us from accepting our present with gratitude.

When we focus on what ifs, we are focusing on two things that don’t matter. The past is over and done with, and we can’t unring that bell. And the future is guaranteed to no one, so dreaming what our future might look like is wasting the only time we know we have, which is happening right now while we remove ourselves from it.

I’ve decided it’s time to stop beating myself up over a past I wish could have been different. It couldn’t have been. I was who I was and I made the only choices I was capable of making given the reality I knew. It wasn’t until I understood my reality was skewed that I could do better for myself. So, I am going to try to stay in my present and appreciate what is rather than wondering about what ifs from my past or dreaming about what ifs for my future. We all have made choices we wonder about now, but that is a waste of precious time in the current moment. Maybe if we spent more time focusing on now, we wouldn’t be so concerned about mentally rewriting our past or dreaming about a future we are not guaranteed. We are perfect the way we are, and who we are right now in this moment is all we are called to be. Everything else is just noise.

Hey Coach Fox…Some Risks Are Worth Taking

The boys' first Broncos game back in November.
The boys’ first Broncos game back in November.

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”  ~Wayne Gretzky

Like many Denver residents, I’m still shaking my head about yesterday’s painful playoff game between the Broncos and the Baltimore Ravens. The Broncos, 9-point favorites going into the game and odds-on favorites to win the Super Bowl, somehow managed to lose the game during an overtime period that might not have even been warranted if Coach John Fox hadn’t had Peyton Manning take a knee with thirty seconds left in the game. Now, I’m not a great armchair quarterback or anything (although my Fantasy Football team did finish second in our league this season), but Fox’s choice prompted me to shout a few choice words at my television. If the Broncos, with the ball on their twenty yard line and two timeouts remaining and one of the most successful fourth-quarter quarterbacks ever at the helm, had taken their chances they might have won the game outright, just as they were expected to do. But the coach, for his own reasons, didn’t want to take the risk. Consequently, I’m still shaking (and scratching) my head.

When I was younger, I was fairly conservative with my choices. I was not foolhardy. I held things close to my chest. I was careful to protect myself from possible disappointment. I avoided pain at all cost. You know…better safe than sorry, right? Well, as I’ve gotten older and been able to enjoy the unsweetened benefit of hindsight, I have come to realize that my only regrets in life are a direct result of the chances I did not take, opportunities I did not seize because I was cautious. I understand that you only get one go-around, so when an opportunity presents itself now, no matter how frightened or uncomfortable I am, I try to take it. It’s better to give something your honest all, to put yourself out there, and go balls-to-the-wall, than it is to spend the rest of your life wondering what if. Second guessing yourself is a worse fate than failure.

Today as I sat shaking my head about Coach Fox’s game decision yesterday, I found myself wondering if he is already second guessing his choice. If he’d let Manning play those thirty seconds and try to put together a drive down the field, we might have lost the game in regulation. Manning could have been picked off or there could have been a fumble. It might have ended badly. But, what if it hadn’t? What if Manning had pulled out another one of his clutch performances? Thirty seconds is still plenty of time in a football game when you’ve got a competent leader at quarterback. Perhaps we’d been have been able to give Matt Prater a second shot at a crucial field goal or maybe Manning would have been able to hit Demaryius Thomas or Eric Decker for a touchdown? We’ll never know. I believe, as Alvin Toffler said, “It’s better to err on the side of daring than the side of caution.” In the end, people respect those who dare. And, those who dare never have to wonder what if.