Have you ever wondered about how different your life might have been if you’d made different choices in your past? Of course you have – you’re human. So here’s a more challenging question: how attached are you to that imagined life? What I mean is, does imagining something different cause you to view your actuallife with resentment or bitterness?
Recently I rewatched the 1998 movie Sliding Doors and it got me thinking about regret and the lives we might have otherwise lived. In case you can’t quite remember it (well, it did come out 21 years ago!), the film explores two different life paths following Gwyneth Paltrow’s character either catching or missing a particular train. In one narrative, she gets home in time to find her partner cheating, moves out, gets a sassy haircut, starts her own business, falls for a new boyfriend and takes control of her life. In the other, she gets home too late to witness the cheating, and her doormat-y life continues more or less as it had (until the twist at the end). What made Sliding Doors so enticing to audiences, I suspect, was that it invited us to fantasise about an alternative life we could have had if only fate had steered us in a different direction.
Here’s the thing about fantasies: they keep us from being grounded in the lives we *do* have. When we invest emotionally in a fantasy, we’re tacitly agreeing to be passive observers rather than active participants in creating our futures. Sliding Doors made it look like fate determines the course of our lives, and that’s simply not true. We are the ones in charge, and the Universe is there to work with us. (Read more about this in my ‘Who’s in charge?’ post.)
In one of her much-loved Dear Sugar columns for The Rumpus, Cheryl Strayed wrote: “I’ll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”
I love the way she acknowledges the appeal of a fantasy life and how captivating it can be, but also recognises that ruminating over it can be detrimental.
So many of my clients tell me how heavily the burden of regret weighs on them. One client had spent years shaming herself for choosing something that seemed right at the time but which, she felt, had got her to a point in her life where she no longer wanted to be. She was stuck on the idea that she had ruined, or at least hampered, her life. She was attached to the idea of the life she would/should/could have been living right now if she’d made different choices. This is the great lie that shame tells us all. In truth, there is no alternative life. All of us are where we are because that is where we’re meant to be. But we don’t have to stay there.
Last year, when I was writing a feature about regret (I’m also a freelance journalist), I interviewed a life coach who told me that regrets about the past are often a tactic employed to avoid the present. She told me: “It’s easy to go, ‘it was so fantastic with that boyfriend when I was 23’, but there was a reason that that didn’t work out. It’s really easy to click into the ‘grass is greener’ scenario. [But] there’s no way that we can make changes without going into whatever’s in the present that we’re trying to avoid.”
It’s an important point. When we’re lamenting the past or investing energy into an alternative life, we’re giving away our power. We’re holding onto a fantasy and giving ourselves licence to stay stuck in sorrow for something that was – in truth – never meant to be. You’re entitled to your sorrow, but if you let that rob your present of joy, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
For better or worse, you are exactly where you are supposed to be. You made the choices you made because you didn’t know then what you know now. And if you’re not happy where you are right now, that’s a good thing – because you have the power to change it. The only way to turn your life around is to face up to the ways your current life is falling short, and commit to making changes over time. That’s a narrative you’re unlikely to see in film, but it may help you make great strides towards the life that you want.
*If you need help turning your life around, talk to me about how energy healing can help you clear blocks to success and manifest a better reality. Click here to find out more.