By the time you're 40 (or staring down its barrel), it's time to accept that every decision you've made necessarily meant deciding against the alternative.
To paraphrase my mom's words from a "guest post" here called The Wisdom of Accepting the Possible, all of us are in a box of our own making framed by luck, both good and bad. None of us has infinite choices or infinite luck, so it's best to embrace the present and the life you're living without reservation.
Some people are much better at this than others. Some people never look in the rearview mirror. Some people just make a decision, move on, and never look back. They just throw themselves optimistically onto the path they're on.
Well ... I'm not one of those people. Not by a long shot. And it's not a good thing.
I've always been plagued with ambivalence and the haunting refrain of "shoulda-coulda-woulda." For people like me, freedom and choices can feel like prison. This is the main theme of Jonathan Franzen's novel Freedom, which resonated strongly with me for that reason.
Nothing ever seemed like the "right" choice to me, ever. Relationships. Jobs. Schools. Careers. Geography. The "right" choices always felt like a mirage in the desert. I think I see water on the horizon, but when I get there it's just more desert as far as the eye can see.
What is it about "living in the past" that is so compelling? Why can I not live comfortably with any decision I ever make? I honestly don't know the answers to these questions.
I tell myself that ambivalence keeps my mind active and striving for improvement, but yet I haven't made any such strides in years. I often feel stumped and paralyzed, mostly because I worry I will always feel stumped and paralyzed. From what I eat for breakfast to decisions I make at work to major life choices, I usually feel like I am doing something wrong.
A few years ago, a passenger plane crashed into the Hudson River and everyone survived. Passengers on the plane who were interviewed recently talked about all the changes they made in their lives as a result of their near death experiences.
I definitely don't want a near death experience to be the catalyst for change in my life. I don't even know if I want change, or what change would look like. Really, what I want most of all is just to be one of those people who can avert my eyes from the rearview mirror a little more often.