“I wish I had…”
I’m a bit fatalistic when it comes to conjecturing about what might have been. I don’t just think about the good things that could have happened if I had changed that ONE thing; I think of the bad. That’s why I strive to live with no regrets and avoid getting sucked into the “what-if” game.
For instance, suppose you deeply regret not going to a job interview years ago because you overslept. Even now, you beat yourself up over it. But did you really blow the employment opportunity of a lifetime? Sure, you might think so now. But what if something terrible had happened on the way to the interview? What if you stepped off the curb and got run over by a car? Missing that interview would have turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to you.
Here’s another example. You were accepted by Virginia Tech but couldn’t swing the tuition and decided to attend a local community college instead. You even intended to transfer to VT after getting your associate’s degree, but you landed a pretty decent job. Now, years later, you find yourself stuck in cubicle-land with no opportunity for advancement without that bachelor’s degree. You repeatedly lament, “If only I had gone to Virginia Tech!” OK, let’s suppose you did go to VT and were a freshman in 2007. Well guess what? That was the year Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people on campus. What if you had been one of his victims?
Am I being a little too dark here? Probably. Let me lighten things up with an actual what if from my life. I often wish Mr. Groovy and I met when we were in our 20s, and not our 40s. We could have saved like bandits for 10 years and pulled off early retirement in our 30s, rather than at the ripe ages of 55 and 57. But could we?
I lived below the poverty level in my 20s and Mr. Groovy was first starting his career in local government. Suppose we met by chance in a bar or club in 1984. Would we have hit it off? I’m sure I was way too independent for the 23-year old Mr. Groovy. And he was from the B&T crowd (bridge and tunnel) which would have been a turn-off to the 25-year old Manhattanite, Mrs. Groovy. But let’s suppose we miraculously made it to a second date and went on to marry in 1986. There’s no guarantee our marriage would have lasted. As for early retirement? Yeah right. I might be a grandma right now, struggling to pay my bills, and he might be a grandpa, struggling to get off the sofa!
My point is that if you can magically go back in time and tinker with one aspect of your life—what makes you certain that subsequent events would have played out in your favor? But this is exactly what we do. We think EVERYTHING WOULD BE PERFECT IF I HAD JUST _____(fill in the blank yourself)!
So if we’re going to fall into the trap of “what if,” let’s really go for it. Let’s look at a few common regrets and project what could happen if we were granted our wishes.
What if I had a steady job? Then I’d be happy.
Tell that to the family of Jackiqui Lindhardt from Sandy, Utah. She loved her job as a baker at a local supermarket. That is, until she went to work one day and was killed by an industrial mixer in a freak accident.
What if I had a lot of money? Then I’d be happy.
You think that’s always true? Howard Hughes was one of the wealthiest people in the world. He also was an eccentric who spent much of his life in pain and eventually became dependent on codeine. When he died he was supposedly so unrecognizable he could only be identified by his finger prints.
What if I could go on a dream vacation? Then I’d be happy.
Mr. and Mrs Lofgren thought so too. They were vacationing for Thanksgiving with their two children, ages 10 and 8, at a rented luxury home in Aspen. They had won the stay in a charity auction held at the children’s school. All four of the Lofgrens died after Thanksgiving dinner from carbon monoxide poisoning. Their extended families are staunch advocates for carbon monoxide legislation and initiatives.
What if I had some adventure in my life? Then I’d be happy.
Lauren Seitz recently graduated from high school and was on an outing with friends at the National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, NC. She died a few days later from a brain-attacking organism that was traced back to the water at the center.
What if I could find a hobby? Then I’d be happy.
Alex Bestler loved to hike. Recently he was hiking with a friend in Usery Mountain Park in Mesa, Arizona. Without warning, a swarm of angry bees attacked him. He was stung more than 1,000 times. Fire fighters were only able to get to him when the bees left. He eventually died after being taken to a hospital.
What if I had talent? Then I’d be happy.
Robin Williams, John Lennon, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston had boat loads of talent. Enough said.
What if I had children? Then I’d be happy.
Alan and Diane Johnson had a picture-perfect life. They were together for twenty years and lived in a beautiful home outside of Sun Valley, Idaho. But they had been arguing with their 16 year-old daughter, Sarah, because they didn’t approve of her 19-year old boyfriend. One evening she shot them to death and then watched, with no emotion, as her parents were removed from their home in body bags.
OK, I’m exaggerating dramatically to make a point. But I hope I’ve given you something to think about. Ruminating on “what ifs” is a fool’s game. We can even look to children’s fairy tales for lessons about wishes that go awry. So let’s be careful what we wish for and count our blessings, shall we? I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not get caught with a sausage stuck on my nose, like the woodcutter’s wife in the Grimm’s fairy tale The Three Wishes.
Do you find yourself playing the “what-if” game?
Do your “what ifs” affect how you currently live your life?
Have you figured out a way to keep the “what ifs” from becoming the story of your life?