WHAT IF MY LIFE LOOKED DIFFERENT?
It started in elementary school. My kindergarten teacher recommended I skip 1st grade, but my mom didn’t want my younger sister and I to be farther apart in school. I always wondered, if I were a year ahead, would I be more motivated? If I tried harder, would I have a better work ethic? I graduated valedictorian in high school, but it was something I expected, something to which I felt entitled.
My early 20s were haunted by the “what ifs?” surrounding my college decisions. What if I hadn’t taken two years off to go to Bible school? What if I hadn’t been afraid of failure — if I kept auditioning for women’s choir, even though I didn’t make it the first time, because I love to sing? If I took an English class, even though I was intimidated, because deep down I wanted to be a writer?
And the “what if” that was my greatest struggle, the crossroad that held the most obvious divergence in life direction, the internal conflict that started this blog: what if I had accepted my Fulbright to Bulgaria instead of getting married and moving to Florida to join a church I had never heard of?
HOW DO I DEAL WITH IT?
I don’t regret my decision in the least, but at the time, I couldn’t move on. I tried different strategies to intellectually convince myself to “get over it,” unintentionally ignoring how my heart was still crying, begging to be noticed, validated, embraced without shame. I assumed that by recognizing the reality of my present circumstances, I was fine. I wasn’t aware my heart was filled with pain, bitterness, and anger.
There were so many things from my past I thought I had taken care of that didn’t actually need handling — they needed healing. But I didn’t know how to grieve — solely because I never learned to sit with my emotions. I was taught that my heart was not to be trusted, that being emotional was weak, that logic and reason were the only way to process anything. But my feelings are part of me, and to deny how I felt was to deny my whole self.
WHICH VERSION OF MYSELF IS THE “RIGHT” ONE?
In my mind, there were numerous “potential versions” of myself that could have been and still might be. But even if those versions were legitimate possibilities, they didn’t exist. Sure, I could have been a woman who chose career over family, travel over stability, cynicism over faith. But that isn’t what I chose, so it isn’t who I am. Owning my decisions empowers me to take responsibility for my life and everything it holds.
It was only after I got connected to my heart that I discovered which “version” was the most “me.” I wanted adventure, but more than that, I wanted love. I wanted independence, but more than that, I wanted intimacy. And a decision I recently made: I want my master’s degree, but more than that, I want to spend time with my children. But it’s no longer a battle within myself; it’s a liberated choice in agreement with myself.
Years ago, it was difficult to make decisions because I was so detached from who I was. Knowing myself makes it easier and easier to determine what is best for me. It’s still sad to let go of a dream, but as I sit with my sorrow and let it take its course, after an hour, or an afternoon, it passes. By nurturing my heart — my core, the deepest part of me — I become more and more myself.
I am whole, healthy, and free. And I like this version of me.
Inspired after reading Laura Barnett’s Versions of Us. It was disheartening to watch her characters accept lies, betrayal, and turmoil in order to make sense of their lives. I realized I didn’t think that way anymore, that I’m no longer confused about who I am. I chose this version of myself and I’ll keep choosing it.