What If…

September 7, 2012 at 3:28 pm (Uncategorized)

Have you ever wondered what your life might have been like if you had made some different choices through the years? I’m not usually one to deal in hypotheticals, but this particular subject got me thinking, and it’s driving me bananas.

I sometimes wonder what I would be doing today if I hadn’t been ignominiously booted out of college and gone into the army. I often kid my family that I could have been a general by now if I had stayed in the service. That’s highly improbable, given my penchant for landing in hot water with my superior officers. General? Permanent duty as a latrine orderly would have been much more likely. But then again… you never know.

Now think about this. What if you hadn’t married that wonderful spouse you now have, or that miserable so-and-so you were only too happy to ditch? How would your life be different today? Choosing a fantastic wife was one thing I did right. Our four kids and their spouses have given us eight wonderful grandchildren so far. But what if I had gotten it all wrong? Maybe I wouldn’t have any of them, at least not as they are now. Sheesh. Thinking about this stuff can make you cagootz.

Career decisions can be sticky as well. Do you ever wonder if you might have left that last job right before you were due for a big promotion? Or what if you had been fortunate enough to quit not knowing that you were about to get the axe? How about that great offer you turned down to stay where you were? What if you missed out on a great opportunity? Aaargh… My head is starting to spin again.

Unfortunately, there’s no owner’s manual for life. It tends to come at us rather quickly, and as a result we all make some bad decisions. If you were very lucky, you may have had a caring mentor who gave you some good early guidance. I’m not sure that my kids always bought in to what I was selling, but there were three hackneyed old sayings I used regularly to advise them while they were growing up. One was, “Do the right thing”. Another was, (and they REALLY grew to hate this), “You wanna play, you gotta pay!” They still roll their eyes when they hear that one! But what if they hadn’t listened?

Much of what we learn comes through time-consuming and sometimes painful personal experience. When I was still in New York, I worked briefly in Boro Park, a Hasidic section of Brooklyn. I became friends with a local rabbi, who was one of my customers. We were having a discussion one day about life, and I’ll never forget the good rabbi’s words. Shaking his head sadly, he said, “You know, we grow too soon old and too late shmart.” How prophetic! It wasn’t until I reached retirement age and became perfect that I realized how right he was!

So make those decisions carefully, my friends. There are few mulligans in life. But don’t beat yourselves up if things don’t always turn out well. We all have some clunkers on our resumes. By the way, that third trite bit of wisdom I offered my children was “Never give up!” If life knocks you down, you must get back up and fight even harder. After all, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger – and better.

I learned the wisdom of those words by making my own bad decisions, and plenty of them. Many of those came about because in my youthful arrogance I ignored some good advice. As youngsters we tend to think we’re smarter than our elders and therefore many of us are doomed to endure agonizing mistakes that probably could have been avoided if we had just listened. Some of us eventually learn not to make the same bad choices again, and unfortunately, some don’t.

In reality, there’s no way to know what our lives would have been like had we done a few things differently. But it certainly can be interesting to wonder! In the long run we’re all probably better off just being content with the way things turned out. Hey, it could have been a lot worse.


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