Somewhere in the back of my mind, I have always secretly thought I could be a number of different things:
- A badass roller derby player with a lot of tattoos and bruises and a much more aggressive approach to day-to-day living. All of which is hilarious because I have never been in a physical altercation and am basically a total baby.
- A free-spirited hippie artist living in San Francisco, probably in some sort of commune, going to Burning Man every year, hair in dreadlocks.
- An editor or publisher, living in NYC, with suits and clicky heels and a high-stress career.
- A mom of an entire brood of kids.
If you know me, you know how hilarious many of these are, seeing as I am a total baby and could never function in a commune and hate high heels. All of these lives feel like ones I could have had. Sometimes I'll watch moms wrangling kids in the suburbs or sit next to someone in a coffee shop and feel as if I'm eavesdropping on a life that could have been mine if I'd turned to a different page in the great Choose Your Own Adventure book that is life.
It's easy to get sad about it, if we are being honest. I have never met a human being who doesn't have their own deeply personal "what could have been" story. Hindsight is 20/20 but also, I think about all of the things I would have missed out on in this version of the story had I gone a different way.
I turned 34 this year which sounds far more adult that I feel inside. As I took stock of my life, I realized that I am pretty happy. I live in a mid-sized city, in an apartment that feels like home, with nearly all of the people I love in the world nearby. I love my job. It is a good life. I am busy and laugh a lot and enjoy most every day.
There always seems to be a nagging sadness about what could have been.
I am convinced that one could spend forever wishing and hoping and thinking things should be different. I have known many adults who spend a lot of time worrying about and discussing what might have been. And as evidenced by my list above, I could easily be one of them.
My new theory is that we have to let go of what could have been in order to live fully into what is.
I'm certainly not saying that you shouldn't pursue your dreams. It is never too late. But by being sad or frustrated about the things that could have been, we miss out on the joy of the moment. Conversely, by simply accepting our fates, we miss out on pursuing our dreams.
It's a delicate balance.
My feeling is that we have to leave room for both, but so much of the leaning into the good has to do with being free to let go of the things that don't feel right anymore. By letting go of that frustration, we can lean into the essence of what we actually want and move from there.
By getting to the heart of what is behind those desires, we can find pieces of them every day and lean into the good things already present in my life.
Do I really want to play roller derby? NO. Do I want to feel more self-expressed, badass, and physical? YES. I can make spin class a priority or speak my mind or get a tattoo I've been mulling over.
Do I really want to leave the career I've built for a high-stress publishing job? NO. Can I find ways to write and create? YES.
In short, all versions of life that we consider are clues to the things we really want. From there, we can begin to live into the desires behind those fantasies. And I am convinced that those core feelings we are seeking behind those dreams are what is going to make our days feel valuable and whole.
By letting go of what could have been, we get to experience all the joy of what is, and build a life from that place.