My friend and I love following those types of accounts on Instagram that feature beautiful prose paired with visually pleasing photos (@latenightsinthecity is a great example). It’s the type of stuff that’s easy to read and digest, yet makes you stop in the middle of mindlessly scrolling on Instagram and really think about life, love, friendship, or fate (they all usually revolve around one of these topics).
The other day, she sent me a post that had this as the caption, and it’s something that I haven’t stopped thinking about since:
“There’s an alternate reality where today would be your wedding day if you didn’t break up with your ex or you went to your second choice school. There’s a life out there that you could’ve had where you live in a beach town or you married your high school sweetheart or you’re a professional horse rider. The point is, there are so many different directions our lives could have gone, depending on where our parents decided to raise us or what school we went to or what sport we signed up for in second grade. So it makes absolutely no sense for us to get upset about things that could’ve happened but didn’t or people we lost because literally anything could’ve happened. We just don’t always realize the extent of amazing things that could’ve/could eventually happen to us so when we get a peek into a future we want and it seems possible, we obsess when we lose it. There are tons of lives that we don’t have, we can’t possibly cry over all of them. Instead, we have to appreciate the one we do have and the endless possible futures in front of us.” (@dreamerssclub)
If there’s anything I’ve realized this year, it’s that the life an individual leads is made up of decisions that they make and their subsequent consequences. And this thought can be terrifying. It can leave you paralyzed with fear and anxiety when you have to make a decision of any size — how is it going to affect your future? How is it going to change the course of your life? We make big and small decisions every day — where to go to school, which friend to speak to, what time to leave the house. The possibility of the outcome of each decision is suffocating and can leave you feeling so uncertain about everything.
Now that we’re in our 20s, I think a lot of us are realizing that when we look back on our lives, there are a lot of things we could’ve done differently in our lives, even if it’s the small things. There’s a huge range of outcomes that could’ve taken place, if only we had changed a few of our decisions. There are all these lives that we could’ve led — a professional athlete, an expat in Thailand — if only we had even done just one thing differently.
In my life, I think about this a lot. If only I had gotten that one job that I applied for. If only I had met this person just a month earlier. If only I had never met this person at all. If only I had chosen to do this at the time.
If only, if only, if only.
But we really can’t regret the life we didn’t lead. There’s no way in knowing if another path would’ve been the better one for you or not because simply put, you are not on that path and you may never be on that path to know. There’s also no way of going back and changing anything. In a show I watch on Netflix (Bojack Horseman), there is this one character that constantly repeats, “Time’s arrow neither stands still nor reverses. It merely marches forward.” And so, looking back for too long is never a good thing. If you do so, you will constantly be heavy with regret and sorrow.
I think as we go forward, the best thing we can do for ourselves, as the quote says, is to appreciate the life we do have and continue to march forward. Every day, there are a number of roads that diverge before us. And every day, we choose to continue down one or steer in another direction. We shouldn’t be regretful of the lost opportunity or life because there are a million of those. We could spend our entire life crying about it, or we could make the most with the life that we are leading and remember that there are so many opportunities we still have ahead of us.