I just finished reading the Midnight Library by Matt Haig where Nora, the protagonist in the book, is so overcome with regrets that she takes her life only to have a second chance to address her regrets and live other lives. The book brings up some interesting thoughts about the theory of parallel lives, that there is a duplicate of us somewhere in the world living a different life in real time. I will not reveal anymore in case you decide to read the book.
It got me to thinking, though about some of my regrets and the pivotal moments in my life that could have gone one way or another. Just one decision that set me on another path and, in essence, a different life. I suspect that the last two plus years have caused some people to revisit aspects of their lives and, as a consequence, have made some pretty extensive life changes. Sometimes little changes can be a catalyst for major changes and/ very big life decisions like leaving a job or a place of residence become a matter of just transplanting our life circumstances to a new location.
I know of several situations I could have handled better and rather than ruminate about it I reviewed what I could have done differently and told myself, next time I will do better. For some situations I came up with a script for change. Glennon Doyle in Untamed had some rather nifty sayings, one was “when we know better we do better.” These situations did not turn into regrets because I turned them into learning experiences. I know years ago I would have taken my so called “failures” personally, beat myself up and stayed up nights ruminating.
For each experience in life there are things I am grateful for and others I wish never happened but one thing I wondered “would I be the person I am today if that never happened? That brings to mind when I write medical legal reports I sometimes have to formulate an opinion about a person’s career trajectory as if the injury/trauma had not occurred. This is projecting a future as a reasonable possibility.
I think when we regret our actions, we are in a way, projecting another outcome. But maybe just maybe, there was absolutely nothing we could have done differently given the situation. Maybe we are thinking the “grass is greener” when the reality is that maybe it is not and, in fact, it might have turned out much worse with different decision. In fact, maybe we should trust ourselves more in that we made the best decision we could have done with the available information we had at the time. Remember the phrase “hindsight is 20/20”. The information we have today is not what we had then, and another bit of insight could be that we are not who we were then.
I guess we can muse on “what if” but let’s not get stuck there. Many people do. I have had many people with injuries or trauma say to me “if ______ had not happened I would be making such and such salary, I would have this and that. Recovering is a process, and it takes time to come to grips with a situation, however I think getting stuck in regrets could ruin a person’s life even as much as the injury or situation can. WHEN WE KNOW B ETTER WE CAN DO BETTER! Coming to grips with life circumstances means grieving what we lost and then picking up the pieces. Revisiting the past and the “road not travelled” is helpful for processing and recognizing it as a learning experience. We have no control over what happened, and I guess that is the hard part. Being in the here now and controlling what we can is much more helpful.
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