the danger of “if”

 

You hear it every day, all day. If, if, if. If I was only rich. If I was only beautiful. If I was only younger. Cher had one of her biggest hits with If I could turn back time. It is unfortunate how many people are so fundamentally unhappy that they have a little gremlin whispering “what if” or “if only” in their ear.

Many people truly live a hard life. It could be refreshing to think of an alternative situation in which their unhappiness could be cured. I’m guilty of it as well. Unlike most, however, I don’t wish for a bag of gold. It would be nice, money is a big part of life. But it won’t make me happy. I will only find true happiness when I am comfortable in my own skin.

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I often say to myself, if I could only go back. To high school, for example, and apply some of what I know now that I could have used then. From making friends to learning to pick up cues that a pretty girl is into me (as opposed to finding out 30 years later on FB). Or to my first job interview to answer a critical question better. The examples are endless and all seem to point to regret. This is paradoxical for me because I generally don’t dwell on regret. I thought about this very intently and this is what I came up with. I don’t have general regrets, but instead, I have “period” regrets in which some “what if’s” come to mind at different phases of my life. In other words, if I was to dwell on the “if I was younger” narrative, the regrets would be different for each phase, decades for the sake of conversation, of my life.

In my twenties, I would have wished I was younger because I found out that for all of the years that I wished to be an adult and away from the “stifling rule” of my parents, being an adult sucks. Other than being able to drink legally, it’s all “have to” and very little “want to”.

In my thirties, I would have wished to be younger because I spent most of my twenties aimless and shitfaced. Reeling from a couple of bad relationships, working nights in a restaurant, trying to set a record for sleeping with waitresses. I was largely drunk, absent of goals and living day to day. I would like a lot of those days back.

In my forties, I would have wished to be younger because I didn’t do enough catch-up in my thirties. I would remain 8-10 years behind in my career, my 401k, my savings and my resume as an adult.I tried for years to pretend those years didn’t happen but they did.

Now, in my fifties, my “if I was younger” would be to relive and undo. Relive the moments of wonder when the children were young. I loved being a dad so much, although I will go to my grave fearing that I didn’t show it enough at the time. The sleepless nights, diapers and ear infections were so minor compared to the belly laughs at story time, the endless ploys to avoid going to bed, wrestling in the yard and jumping in leaves. The smiles from ear to ear as they discovered beautiful new things that are old hat to me but left them in wonder. The “just because” hugs and the “Hey Dad can I talk to you” are all things that I miss terribly. I fear that I didn’t get enough out of them and sadly, I worry that I didn’t say “I love you” enough.

I wish, but I can’t, undo being sick. To undo those times I was short-tempered when my blood pressure was out of control and my life was crashing around me. To undo the terrible fights with my wife that we stupidly had in front of the kids. To undo the disappointed looks on their faces when I was too sick to get off the sofa, or too busy to stop and make a memory.

There are too many “if’s to discuss in this one post. Maybe I will write a series of blogs about it (feedback welcome). The key message is that I don’t have the luxury of “if’s”, I don’t get to redo and I don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression. Those moments are past but not gone. They are now part of me, at this moment in time, and can’t be changed. Knowing they happened may serve me in the future in the form of wisdom, should a similar situation arise. But it is up to me to live the life that I have, not the one I could have had. My regrets have made me a better, kinder and humble person. I know who I am and I can look the man in the mirror in the eye. I only have one skin and I am almost comfortable in it.

My mistakes and regrets have served me. I have some great stories to tell and I am even considered wise by some. My life has changed greatly of late, but I’m adapting. I feel like I know things that elude others, like I have a secret. It’s really no secret. I want to live a life of fulfillment, no matter how many years I have left. And in my sixties, may I look back and be more comfortable with what I did in the ten years before.