This week I went to the cinema to watch the new Dr Strange film by myself. It’s something I used to do a lot in a previous life as a film student, which chimed nicely with one of the films themes of alternate realities. Occasionally I look back on my time studying film and wonder what my life would be like now if I had followed my original plan to become an academic. While it can be easy to become caught up in romanticised versions of ‘what if…’, it can also stop us from moving forward from where we are now.
Reconciling ourselves with past events can take time and space to process, and it is often a part of therapy. We let go of some of our ‘what ifs…’ as we process our experiences and let them settle into the narrative of our lives in a way that is right for us. While we can’t change what happened, we can change the way we respond to it and the prominence we give it in the narrative we choose. It took me a long time to learn this and eventually I got a tattoo as a permanent reminder.
The image “[…]” is on my wrist and is used in academic writing when quoting someone else’s words, to stand in for a bit that you do not need to repeat in full. The tattoo is a reminder that we can acknowledge what is there without having to give it a prominent place, that we can choose the important bits to pull out of our story. It was something I realised through therapy and the personal development work I did in my training, as I let go of old regrets and ‘what ifs…’ and focused instead on what I could actually do.
We make the best decisions we can at the time with the information we have available to us, but that doesn’t mean that when new information comes along, we can’t make a different choice. I’ve finally stopped asking what would have happened if I’d continued to study and got my Phd., and instead ask myself if I want to do a Phd. now. This simple reframing of the question helps to ground me in the present reality and reminds me that I always have a choice, even if it isn’t necessarily an easy one.
How could you reframe you ‘what if…’?