If you could go back into your past and change anything or any decision, would you do it?
At first thought, its an instant, “YES!!” We all have a few times we wish we could turn back the clock and choose door B over door A. Maybe its a minor change like speaking to that guy in college who we thought didn’t even know we existed but it turns out he did…and he had a crush on us. Maybe it was picking Enron stock over Microsoft in the late 80s, or staying with that guy way too long when we should have dumped him right away. We all have those bad decisions we wish we could change. However, even the smallest tweaks can change the path of our lives significantly. The ripple effect can alter everything.
But would our lives be better off?
Well sure, if that one decision took you to prison. But in reality, its fun to fantasize about what those changes could have done. For me, I often wonder how different my life would be now had I moved somewhere other than San Francisco after college. I have no regrets about living in the city and enjoyed it, but it was never my passion. I often felt lonely–like everyone else was living this fun and glamorous lifestyle and I was being left out. I was busy of course–dating, working, playing sports, exercising. However, my insecurities held me back. I was never the girl the boys wanted to date–that was my neighbor or my coworker. I wasn’t that ambitious at work or maybe I just never felt smart enough to think I deserved to be promoted. The mid to late 90s were a time when everyone seemed to just live in the now–attending internet parties, deflecting job offers that seemed to be everywhere, and enjoying the sense of success the economy was taking on. We knew the future was there because Y2K was right around the corner, but we didn’t care. We all thought we would be working at CNET for at least another decade. It didn’t matter the economy was speeding out of control towards a brick wall. When it crashed, it crashed hard and took me along with it. I was laid off from CNET in 2001 and my life came off the track and it would take me until 2012 to get it back on. I often think about how different my life would be now had I gone to LA instead of San Francisco. Things would have definitely turned out differently, but would they be better?
As much as I sometimes think about “what could have been”, I don’t look back on my decisions with regret. Not at all. As a matter of fact, I don’t have any regrets really. Every turn in my life–whether its a place I’ve lived, person I’ve met or dated, job offer I’ve accepted only to be laid off or fired, or tear I’ve shed because of heartbreak–has impacted me and made me the person I am today. Because of those decisions, I’ve shaped into the strong, independent, loving, kind, and loyal person I am now.
I do feel I lost out a little bit in my 30s trying to recapture what I had in San Francisco in my late 20s before the tech crash. I thought I had been happy because I was busy, in shape, saving money, and generally content. What I didn’t realize until I moved away and started a new life in Minneapolis was that I didn’t miss San Francisco much at all. I was nostalgic and will always find that time in my life special, but I knew it had its place. I will never recreate it nor do I want to simply because I could never live at that pace again. Trying to stay cutting edge with my job while dating and socializing like Carrie Bradshaw and her friends on Sex and The City. It was bound to cause a mental breakdown at some point…and it almost did.
The one true decision I made–and I still vividly remember it–was when I left my stressful job as a 911 dispatcher and decided to visit my brother in LA. As I drove out of the city, tears streaming down my face, I suddenly felt free–like shackles that had been weighing my body down so heavily had suddenly disappeared. I had been so stressed out and unhappy with that job, feeling free opened up my senses. And when I say unhappy and stressed, I mean I couldn’t see dramatic movies, conduct small talk, date, get through a day without crying, and basically doing the things that once gave me pleasure. I was forgetful, reclusive, and craved pineapple because all I could fantasize about was escaping to Hawaii. Suddenly everything looked brighter and smelled better. I knew it was time to leave the city for good. I had escaped that mental breakdown that most certainly would have led me to trouble. The seeds of going on a road trip around the country took root and by the time I got to LA, I knew I would be closing the door to that life in San Francisco and starting a new life somewhere else. It was scary, exhilarating and crazy all mixed up. It would mean giving up the cute two bedroom, rent controlled apartment in Pacific Heights and I knew I would never, ever, be able to move back to the city at that price or even close to it. It was shutting one door in order to open another door where I had no idea would lead me. Even now, I have my doubts that I made the right decision. Do I wish I still had a San Francisco apartment with parking for $1500 a month? Absolutely. But do I regret giving it up for the adventures I’ve taken since? Absolutely not.
Moving away from San Francisco might have been the right decision, but I’m not sure staying in Minnesota for as long as I did was the best choice. While I met some great people, I floundered. I couldn’t find that job that fit me. I was searching for something, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was–and I was still very lonely. With no family around, I was on my own. I thought the loneliness was isolated to San Francisco, but it wasn’t. I was lost.
But even knowing it wasn’t the best decision, I don’t regret moving to Minnesota. It is beautiful and living downtown was fun. Had I not chosen to stay there, I wouldn’t have met some of my closest friends. I wouldn’t have experienced buying a home for the first time or seeing the most beautiful snowfall on Christmas day. However, subconsciously, I chose not to put roots down because I knew I wasn’t going to be there forever. Although I did buy property, that was the extent of my commitment. I never dated anyone I wanted to be with forever and chose relationships that were superficial. My ties to California were too strong.
After moving back to San Luis Obispo in 2012, I feel I’m in a place where I belong and I’m where I’m supposed to be. My years at Cal Poly were so formative that it was a goal to move back to the area. I never wanted to leave when I graduated in the early 90s, however I forced myself to move because I needed a broader life education. Even at 21, I knew staying in SLO after graduation would be detrimental. At the time, there wasn’t much of a career path and I would never graduate out of the college lifestyle. I needed to experience other places. I needed bigger adventures. I needed to grow up.
My point is this–changing even one decision from our past could mean altering everything that comes after. What if I had never left San Francisco? What if I had met someone in Minneapolis and married him? Some people believe in fate and how everything is meant to be. I believe we carve out the life we seek. Maybe its the laws of attraction. If we want something bad enough we will find a way to make it happen. Ultimately, its those decisions that help you choose which fork in the road to take.
Even if we had the ability to turn back time and change certain decisions or take that other fork in the road, would we end up happier? Would we eventually find our way to where we are destined to be? What if I have already met “the one” guy for me and we never got together? Does that mean my decision not to date him or his decision not to date me means we will regret it for the rest of our lives or does it mean he was never “the one” (which is a notion I don’t really buy into anyway.) I certainly hope not.
I choose to believe we can’t look back on our “bad” decisions with regret. Even those bad decisions have shaped us. Maybe that guy who went to prison for a DUI is now speaking out about the dangers of it and has inadvertently saved other lives by keeping someone from getting behind the wheel drunk. Maybe by dating that guy in college, I would have married young, had kids early, and then divorced. Does it mean that if I got to change my decision in the past I would be better off now? There is no right or wrong, but we shouldn’t regret our decisions because, again, they have shaped us.
We can fantasize about those forks in the road, but we should be grateful and content with the roads we’ve chosen. We can’t go back and we can’t change our decisions so we should embrace and appreciate them.
Unless you went to prison for murder…then you can just rot with regret.