Regardless of where you are at in life, almost all of us can look back at a moment or moments and reflect on all the things we didn’t do but should have. Perhaps you’re going back to school and finally getting the degree you always wanted, but you took a few detours getting there. You started a family, worked while your husband went to school or maybe you were single and just not ready. You wanted to travel, explore your options, live life and have a little fun.
Now, you’re finally attending college, are a bit of a late bloomer but kicking yourself because you could have had your degree years ago. Nevertheless, here you are. Or maybe you’re in the middle of a divorce. You’re meeting with your lawyer or finalizing paperwork and the voices from the past keep creeping in. You just can’t help but internally roll your eyes at all the “I told you so’s” from family or friends who tried to warn you. But, you were in love and ignored all the warning signs and glaring red flags waving in front of you. Looking back, you realize that you were pretty good at convincing yourself and making excuses to justify your decisions while ignoring the signs the universe was trying to show you, that you were heading in the wrong direction.
You start doing the math, calculating all the birthdays that have gone by and accounting for all of the years and more gray hair and stress wrinkles that accumulated since. There isn’t a time machine that can take you back and stop you from making one of the biggest mistakes of your life. And so you’re wide eyed, staring at the popcorn ceiling, watching the ceiling fan turn round and round. You look at the clock and it is 3 a.m. Yeah, you’re up because you understand a little too well that you now have to live with the decisions you made and no one else; you are accountable for your actions — all the right ones and the wrong ones. If only life was like “Star Trek Into Darkness,” you could be the older, wiser Spock advising your younger self. Or like in the latest X-Men series, a friend could travel back in time and talk some sense into the younger, dumber you, knock you around a bit until you were thinking logically rather than purely relying on irrational emotions as a poor guide.
Some of these decisions that can no longer be altered might be as silly as a bad hair cut to a decision to choose one job offer over another. Regardless of how trivial or severe, the hardest part is swallowing the acceptance pill, but it’s the most important step. Acceptance is one of the hardest things anyone can do, especially having to accept some extremely traumatic results that could impair you for life, completely turn your world upside down and even take away a precious loved one. On the extreme spectrum, finding acceptance for a major catastrophic situation may take years or even a lifetime. You may never quite accept a tragedy and some people never do. Some people are altered for life, forever stuck in a deep grieving stage, unable to graduate to the level of acceptance. They are stuck in a perpetual “should have” where they are unable to stop replaying the consequence of their action or inaction. We can all fill in the blank. “I should have gone to school earlier” or “I should have listened to my family and not gotten married so early” or “I should have taken that job” or “I should have spent time more time with (so and so) while they were alive.”
We can play the “should have, would have, could have” game all day long. The only problem is this doesn’t accomplish the number-one, most important factor in all of this— it doesn’t change the results. It doesn’t change what already happened and it only brings self inflicted torture rather. Nothing about the unsatisfactory results are improved as a result of playing the “should have” game. Yeah, you probably should have taken different actions, steps and made different decisions. But the fact of the matter is you didn’t. You are where you are, and that’s that.
Swallowing that acceptance pill is a very big pill, but you have to and you need to. Once you embrace and finally let go of the past, you can be truly open to what is possible in your future. Think about your situation now; maybe you’ve learned a lot from this. I truly believe that in every circumstance no matter how painful, tragic or devastating that there is a better version of you as a direct result of it. So stop “should having” all over yourself. Instead, be solution orientated and resourceful. What can you do with what you have right now? What are your options? What are all the steps you need to take? Who are the players? How much time and money will it cost? What mentors do you need to reach out to? Which field experts you need to have a meeting with that can help you reach your goals? Would it help to talk to a professional such as a counselor, therapist or psychologist?
Hey, there’s nothing wrong with getting help, that’s why help is available there’s nothing shameful about turning to professionals for some guidance.
You can’t be the person you are today if it wasn’t for everything that has happened. If the version of you now isn’t the person you’d like to be, it is within your power to acknowledge what habits and beliefs need to be altered in order for you to become the upgraded version of yourself.