If you had the chance, would you do it over again?
It’s hard to decide, because, logically, if you go back and change one part, you’re changing everything that comes after. You’d not come back to this place and time, you’d be living a different life. Theoretically, I suppose your choices could bring you right back to this point, but then going back to change something seems pretty silly, hmm?
I’m reading a new book that I find fascinating. It is called Pretty Little Mistakes by Heather McElhatton. It’s a do-over novel. So, you read a section that ends with a question. You choose what you’d do next, turn to the corresponding page and find out what happens, based on your decision. I keep reading it over and over and making different decisions to see what happens. It is funny that when I choose something I would actually choose, it can blow up in my face. Then, if I choose differently than I truly would, sometimes I end up with the life I really want.
But, it makes me think about choices, how our choices affect us and what that means in the bigger picture. The thing is, we don’t really get to know. We rarely get to see the linear line of our lives to realize how our decisions affect our lives. Of course, I can’t help but wonder about some of the choices I’ve made.
Generally, I’m happy with my choices. I don’t believe in regret, because it does you no good. Once the decision is made, it is made, there’s no changing it, so why waste your time with regret?
However, having said that, there is one choice I’ve made in my life that I’m simply not confident in. I may have made the wrong choice. I’ll never know, there is simply no way to decide, but I still wonder, to this day.
When I graduated from grad school, December of 2006, I had a job offer waiting for me. I could have been a children’s librarian at a public library, working full-time, right out of the gate. They offered me the job before I even graduated, in November.
I would have had health benefits (better than what I have now). I would have been paid a salary higher than I’m making now. (This especially sucks since it is five years later, I’ve had one raise here and I’m still making less than that starting salary–and, after five years, I’d have had plenty of raises at that job. Ouch.) I would have been doing the job I wanted to do (children’s librarian) in a place where I wanted to work (public library).
There was so very much about that job I liked. I met the people who worked there. They were kind, they made me laugh, they took me out to lunch. I felt comfortable with them. I could have enjoyed working with them.
But, after Christmas, I turned down the job.
I said no. I made a decision and changed the course of my life, for better or worse.
Well, the primary reason is that the job was in New Jersey. I didn’t want to live in New Jersey. Even though it was on the Jersey shore and living near the ocean appealed to me very much, I didn’t want to LIVE in New Jersey. More subtly, I was homesick. I’d lived away from my family for two years, while in grad school. I missed my friends. I wasn’t able to go to KJ’s wedding. I missed Tom and Mindy’s reception (luckily it was months after the wedding, which I was able to make). I missed my family. I missed people being nice, even if they were strangers, I missed always knowing where I was and where I was going (literally, when driving around). I wanted to be home.
Moreover, I was scared. Leaving to live in DC for two years was scary enough, but I knew, the whole time, that it was temporary. I knew when I graduated, I’d go home. And it was still hard. I made friends and things got easier, but it wasn’t the same. These friends didn’t know me like my friends back home. They will probably never meet my parents or my siblings. They were “away” friends, not “always” friends.
Then, thinking of moving, I got more scared. Accepting a job isn’t temporary, it’s pretty permanent. I told myself it didn’t have to be, I could just try it for a year and see what I thought. Still, I knew, things just seem to go on, no matter what, and I was scared I would wake up one day, years from now, and find that I was still living in New Jersey. Maybe I met a NJ boy and had NJ babies and was living a very nice life. Maybe my career would switch gears and I’d have moved again–to California or Texas or Colorado or Georgia, who would possibly know? Maybe, maybe, maybe, that sound kept thundering through my brain.
Maybe should have been exciting. Look at the world, see the possibilities, there is nothing that I could not do–that sort of thing. But, suddenly, maybe seemed kind of ominous. I asked Mindy, “if I lived in NJ, you’d visit, right?” and she gave a patented “mindy-esque” answer. It was real, brutal, and honest. I still remember, all these years later. She said,”I’d probably come once to visit, but let’s be realistic, that kind of thing doesn’t really happen. I’d like to say I’d visit all the time, but I just wouldn’t. People don’t.”
It’s true. I thought of all the friends that I’ve known that have moved away. Some I promised to stay in touch with, some I forgot as soon as they were gone. None, am I still friends with anymore. People don’t.
Family is, of course, different. I knew I wouldn’t lose my family, but I would have lost the ability to participate in many things. I would have missed Emily and Chad’s engagement. My sister would have asked me to be her maid of honor over the phone, instead of in person. Sure, I’d still have gone to the wedding, but the “stuff” talking about it, meetings, dress shopping, that would have gone on without me. I’d have missed the birth of my first nephew. I wouldn’t have been there when Simon was born. Given the state of relations at that time, he could have been 10 months old before I’d ever met him, if I hadn’t lived here. There are other things, moments, that I could list here, but it isn’t the point.
The point is, I weighed the options and chose safety, family, and friends over a career, over stability and, dear God, financial security.
Do I regret it? No. I’m happy with the way my life is, mostly, but I do sometimes wish for that other path. For that option. I want to walk down that road a ways and just see what it would have been like. I want to meet myself, now, five years later, and see who she is, the Olivia who said yes to a job in NJ. How is she different? Is she married? Does she have kids? Who are her friends? How much money does she have in the bank? Where does she live? What is her house like? Does she still love her job? What makes her sad? What does THAT Olivia wish she could change about her life? And, most importantly, does that Olivia think that taking the job was the right choice?
It wouldn’t matter, it wouldn’t change anything. I’m still me and I made the choice I made and things turned out the way they turned out. But, I can’t help wishing for a peek behind the curtain. I just would like to know if I made the right or wrong choice.
Then, I remind myself that there is no right or wrong choice. That was not a yes or no decision. It was a scale, a balance. I could stack the chips any way that I wanted and make the scale balance just the way I chose. I chose home. Family. Certainty. I shied away from insecurity, unknown, change. That was me, at that time. I was defined by the choices I’d made up until that point and my decision went that way. It wasn’t right or wrong and it never will be. It was simply the choice I made during the biggest crossroad I’d at which I’d ever stood.
I know that in my life I will stand at those crossroads again. I will face down major decisions. It will happen and I will feel scared and shaky and nervous. I will fill the scales with the chips I have in my pocket at the time and I will choose. It will change my life and I will probably never even know how. We are rarely ever offered that lucky glimpse behind the curtain, we hardly ever get validation that the choice was good. We just live the lives we choose and hope we’re smart enough to keep making decisions that make us happy.
But, we never actually know. It’s that mystical “what if” that I can’t stop wondering about. Because next time I make the choice, I’ll base part of my decision on the choice I made the last time–and I have to do it without knowing if that choice was good or not.
It’s amazing, when you think about it, how much of life is absolute blind faith.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (who was kind enough to give me a day off yesterday), once said, “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” That’s a pretty good description of life choices, too. We make that choice, which is that first step and we’re stepping blindly into the unknown. We can’t see the staircase, we just step, hoping it will be there when we land.
I’ve been lucky, I’ve always found the staircase. It may have, sometimes, gone down when I’d hoped it was going up, but it’s always there and I keep stepping–to see what comes next. That’s the fun in life. What comes next.
Must be a pretty darn good book if it made me think this much, right? I’m about to start the sequel tonight. I’ll let you know. Or maybe I won’t. I’ll have to decide.