Monday, October 31, 2011

by Sophie


Middle age is not the best time to start looking backward and wishing for a do-over, and yet it seems to be very common. The fabled crisis occurs, I think, when people get to be about my age and look around and wonder what the hell happened to the last two or three decades. Now, in this wobbly economy, a lot of folks feel like they don't have much to show for their hard work. Dreams and plans seem shattered and broken.

And there's so much "what-if" going around. Why weren't we the guy who sold high and hunkered down? Why did we think it was a great idea to leave a job, start a business, jettison a relationship, stay with a relationship, have kids, not have kids...and on and on and on? What if we'd studied harder, gone to the gym more, stayed out of the sun?

That's the perfect pond in which to cultivate all kinds of nasty scum. No better environment for wistful to turn into its darker cousin, regret. We would all be well served to keep our gaze firmly on the road ahead, and away from the rear-view mirror, but that's difficult to do, especially when life isn't going the way we'd hoped.


Sometimes, you get brave. Or circumstances make you brave. I really believe that the challenges of today are going to produce a lot of stronger people in the long run. Complacency has no place in lean, desperate times, and we are forced to adapt. To grow. To face up to challenges, even if on the inside we are a mess - resisting, grieving, afraid, weak. Some people don't make it. They sit down on the side of the road and cry and wait to be rescued. These are not my people. Oh, once they might have been, but there's been a lot of hard miles since the last time I did that, and I find I'm no longer all that sympathetic to the quitters.

About a year ago, Juliet and I were talking one day about this and that, like we do. And one of us came to the startling realization that we were both living our dreams. We'd quit talking about wanting to write full time some day - and started doing it. There was no magic switch that got turned; for both of us there was a fair amount of luck and serendipity, but there were also challenges and sacrifices and deadlines and scary moments. And yet we'd persevered. We'd kept at it. And one day...we were just doing it. We were writers.

The result is that, at a time when many of our contemporaries are feeling the weight of regrets crushing down on them, we get to be full of anticipation and hope about the future. Every day is a day full of possibility. And yes, sometimes the deadlines are arduous and the industry seems callous and the competition fierce. But it doesn't matter. We are living the dream of our own design, and there is nothing - nothing! finer.

I can't say that I would have gotten to this point if I hadn't been pushed and prodded by circumstances. But what I perceived as unlucky breaks, as unfair burdens, in the past, are actually what brought me here today. So I don't regret those, either. The burdens that weighed me down before, now make me stronger.

I'm certainly not immune. I too have days where it feels like I misplaced a decade. There are things I wish I'd done differently and changes I wish I'd made sooner. But the sum of the parts is splendid, because I'm doing what I want to do.

It's so simple, isn't it? I wish it for all of you. Do what you want. Not later, but now.


Rachael Herron said...

Yes, yes, yes. Yes to this. (It *almost* got me to open my ms again tonight, but I think I've reached the point of diminishing returns.)

Anonymous said...

This is a great post. It's easy to look back at life and wish for a do-over, and it's always great to hear success stories. But nobody gets to be a full-time writer without both mad talent and luck. And maybe these changing economic times are going to hone the talents of many, forge them into who they were born to be. But the reality is that a great many talented people are simply not going to have the kind of luck they need, not with markets this tight, and stress levels this high. I think we're about to see more people reach their potential, and a lot more people unable to do so.

William Doonan

Mysti said...

I think of regret as a sign that I grew enough to recognize a mistake that I couldn't possibly have recognized then. Regret-forgive-choose next steps. without forgive and next steps, regret does turn dark, you're too right about that!

I compromised on my dream, sure I couldn't accomplish the real one. But after 20 years as a technical writer, I'm finally taking those last scary steps. Many things gave me the courage, including the easy laughter and warm acceptance of the ever-fabulous Pens.

Thanks to all you Pens for making it easy to remember to take all three steps, plus the most important first step of saying yes to your dreams. Scary indeed!

Juliet Blackwell said...

I've always felt as though I'd rather rue what I've done, than what I haven't done. And almost every time I've taken a risk and thrown my soul into it, it's turned out well and opened up my world to new and glorious opportunities. Fear of the unknown is powerful, but never boring. Regret, on the other hand...dull.

Anonymous said...

From Maureen

Sophie, thank you for this thoughtful, evocative post. It's both sad & inspirational.

I agree with Juliet; regretting what one hasn't done to me is both terrifying & dull, vs. regretting what we have done.

Living well is an art & it takes maturity to acknowledge larger forces affecting us & still be willing to work toward living your dreams. Our dreams, once true, are often different in reality, but that doesn't make them untrue. It just means that we have to be brave enough to accept reality. Being old enough to know what you want & young enough to go for it is a potent combination - one you & Juliet both have. Congratulations!

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