It’s interesting how often there can be certain themes that can spring up in our lives from week to week. For some reason, a recurring theme that just came up in several conversations over the past several weeks was the concept of “if”. Everyone reading this should know exactly what I am talking about because we all play the “if” game from time to time. Some examples:
- “What if I would have decided to get my MBA instead of being a social worker?”
- “If I just had started my diet in January instead of May I wouldn’t be worrying about wearing a bathing suit this summer”
- “If I only would have saved that money inherited instead of blowing it at the horse track”
- “Man if I just had one more chance to go back in time, I would have never even tried ______” (fill in the blank with addictive substance)
- “If my parents had raised me better I wouldn’t be so neurotic and emotionally unstable right now”
Theoretically, I suppose it makes sense to surmise that if we could go back in time we could then try to fix all of those mistakes and undo the stupid decisions we may have made. If we could just redo the past, we could also try to then shield ourselves from some of the harm that we had to endure in our youth. Theoretically speaking that all sounds nice, but realistically speaking, deep down we all know that those kinds of fantasies end up just being a frustrating waste of time. The truth is that time travel is impossible and we all know it yet there be such a strong temptation to waste time fantasizing about our “if’s”
When confronted with these situations as a counselor trying to help others, I have often used an example that many people can at least try to identify with on some level. Consider a man who lost both of his legs due to some kind of tragic accident. There are different directions that man can decide to follow from there. He can be that guy with no legs who eventually learns to use alternate means to get around and then still strives to be the best person he can be in spite of having a disability. Another direction is to be that guy who spends the rest of his life lamenting about “if only’ he had his old life back, constantly reminiscing about the good old days when he could walk, perhaps while drowning his depression and sorrows in alcohol or pain medication, never moving past the memory of the accident. Until someone cracks the code for time travel, the more productive choice is to try to be the best we can be in spite of our unfortunate circumstances and consequences. This surely is easier said than done and the point here is not trivialize anyone’s personal struggles*. It is just worth noting that often the healing all starts by deciding to leave your “ifs” behind you as you then start to take a few small steps forward into the new challenges of today.
*Perhaps there is someone in your life overcoming a challenge that is teaching you this lesson every day with their refusal to quit. (There is someone in mine right now who amazes me each day) Or perhaps you are the one inspiring others with your strength and courage. Maybe you are just pushing forward through your own determination to achieve your goals regardless of what life hands you. Either way, good for you for keeping your “if’s” from holding you back.