For of all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: “It might have been!”
– John Greenleaf Whittier
We all struggle with feelings of inadequacy from time to time. It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking back on what could have been better in our lives: time better spent, lives better planned, better education, better success.
Like I said, it’s easy to do this. So easy, in fact, that we often find ourselves slipping into thinking about the past and what could have been different.
What’s not easy is to not think about life this way. The funny thing about things that “might have been” is that they never happened. And they never will happen. Sure, this can be sad, and even disheartening at times. But, isn’t it even more sad when we focus so much on these nonexistent events that we neglect the present.
I’ll be brief on this so much as possible as to avoid the semblance of being a whiner (I only mention myself for an example on this and nothing else). A few weeks ago, I started dwelling too much on the things of the past. I guess I shouldn’t really call them “things of the past,” since they never happened. Anyway, I guess I had my mid-first-semester-of-law-school-crisis. Everything came into doubt: I should have slowed down with my undergrad, I could have had better grades, I could have done better on the LSAT and been accepted to a better school. Yada yada yada. A solid example of an “it might have been” moment. And let me tell you, I was not a pleasant person to be around when I let these thoughts.
Talking to my Mom one night (snaps for Moms!), she pointed out how morose I had become and how my “chipper behavior” had vanished. So, I told her what I had been thinking about in the span of the past few days and how my life could have been so much better if I had done things differently in life. In a blunt way, she said:
“What’s the point of thinking like that? There’s nothing you can do about it now, so why let it bother you right now?”
I was a bit upset. No one likes to hear, “there’s nothing you can do about it now.” But, it’s true.
But when I moved on from that, I became a happier person. Instead of focusing so much on what could have been, the question became, “What can I do better right now?”
We can’t change what happened in the past. But (corny phrase alert!), we can shape our future now. We cannot focus on the future if we dwindle on the past so much. Learn from the past, but don’t live in it.
So, I suppose Whittier’s words should be a bit different (warning, the alterations are not poetic at all. My apologies):
For of all [glad] words of tongue and pen, the [gladdest] are these: “It [will be]!”
(Yeah … the substitutions made it seem worse. Sorry about that. But, at least you get the point!)
So, I’m not a sad panda. I’m just Panda. Whootness.