While I wouldn’t trade my current life for anything, until recently I couldn’t help but wonder how things might have turned out differently. I married young in what I now perceive to be unnecessary cautiousness and dependence on my future husband’s income earning potential. Having moved out of my parents’ home at 19 and run out of money to continue college, I saw a moment that I felt I had to seize and took it. Even though things were going well, it took only three years before tiny seeds of regret began rooting in my mind: was I too young? too desperate? too uneducated? Had I greatly missed out by not living independently for a while? Did I have too many kids? Did I know how to raise them?
Since 2010, I’ve alternately wallowed in and denied these regrets–until I fully gave in to the what if’s and made an important discovery. Last week I found myself once again reflecting on my fate, destiny, and circumstances. As I went through “what if” scenarios in my mind, I realized that having done things differently in the past may have led to a very different physical outcome but that the internal transformation I’ve been undergoing would likely have been the same. I realized that my choices led to my destination. That means that presently, even if I’ve made some decisions I could regret, I actually have great power because the ability to choose is still mine. I’m not resigned to let whatever happens happen because in the past, I jumped on a hamster wheel of no further change, metamorphosis, or control over the future. Of course, some things are fixed now, commitments made must be held onto, but some things are easier than the alternative would have been, especially when it comes to being financially stable. I must stop looking at this life of mine as a series of undetermined, uncontrollable events that now occur like dominoes just because I made hasty decisions as a younger woman. Indeed, I still have much power over my day to day life and most definitely over my future by the decisions I make each day.
In my imagination I can picture everything, from one’s exercise and beauty routine to what one eats to how one pursues religion and spirituality to one’s moral principles and character to what transferable job skills one acquires, potentially affecting the course of one’s life five, ten, and twenty years later. I think a lot of people read lifestyle blogs and self help books looking for a prescription formula of how to lead the perfect, ideal, best, fulfilling, or otherwise desirable life, but since the ideal outcome varies for each person, so should our choices. We don’t need others to dictate our choices; instead we need to recognize that we each have more power than we think to choose our way to our desired outcome. I believe most people are already innately aware of their true desires, preferences, opinions, and comfort levels, although for some like me raised in strict families, churches, or schools it may take a few years as a young adult to fully acknowledge one’s inner self and personality. But as a person discovers herself, she should make every decision based on her best true self, her own characteristics, the part of herself that knows what she needs and wants. Like a muscle, the more one gets in touch with one’s innate self, the easier it will become to choose wisely across the entire spectrum of life’s activities. One doesn’t have to follow a certain skin care routine, for example, or buy this makeup or that fashion item, attend this religious group or parent a child that way, just because of the opinion of someone else. While there are scientific facts supporting a lot of emotional, mental, and physical health issues that I think each person has a responsibility to study and apply, there is a lot of room for leeway in personal dietary requirements , the type of relationship style that suits one, or how introspective or not one wishes to be. The internet is full of information but it is even more full of copy cats who emulate their favorite blogger or celebrity without thinking about the fact that it is their own life, not the blogger’s, that they’ll be living twenty years down the road. Living with the then current product of today’s choices, all the time and energy spent making these daily lifestyle decisions now won’t be recoverable if it didn’t lead the way they wished it to.
So my challenge to you is to consider the power you have to direct your future, besides current unavoidable commitments and responsibilities. If you’re unmarried, I cannot emphasize enough to know yourself before making a marriage commitment. If you have regrets about the past, that isn’t bad; it’s better to feel them and even give in a little to the “what if’s” than happily deny them, because eventually they’ll explode from your subconscious to the possible major upheaval of your current world, such as a midlife crisis. I found thinking through the “what if’s” of my decisions from college onward–mentally exploring as many roads not taken as I could think of (along with a tiny bit of Facebook creeping on ex-boyfriends or boys I was too shy to approach)–to be mind clearing. That is, in my imagination I still found myself developing mentally and socially in much the same way as I have over the last decade, although perhaps a bit more legally independent. I realize hindsight is 20/20 and for some this exercise may seem foolish or a waste of time, but for me reflecting on the power of one’s choices seemed like a breakthrough. Perhaps it can help one of my readers, as well.
In closing, Shannon of one of my favorite blogs, The Simply Luxurious Life, touched on this topic in last week’s newsletter. The gist of her thoughts were that we can imagine our future life developing all we want, but passivity will merely render us sitting on the sidelines assisting others in their dreams. To make the life of our dreams, we must proactively make the decisions needed to carve out our future. Might I add, no matter the past.