The Rightness of Past Choices Become Obvious in the Clarity of Future Hindsight
In the Czech novelist Milan Kundera’s philosophical novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984; film adaptation, 1988) the womanizing protagonist Tomáš deliberates if he wants to be single or with his eventual wife Tereza:
We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.
There is no means of testing which decision is better, because there is no basis for comparison. We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold. And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself? That is why life is always like a sketch. No, “sketch” is not quite the word, because a sketch is an outline of something, the groundwork for a picture, whereas the sketch that is our life is a sketch for nothing, an outline with no picture.
The Mournful “What If” is a Powerful and Emotional Inquiry about Alternative Lives You Could Have Lived
Oftentimes, when dealt with adverse circumstances, life’s self-criticism apparatus kicks in. Plagued with self-doubt, life asks the questions “Why did things turn out this way?” and “Why wasn’t this experience what I expected it to be?” Regrets gnaw in the back of the mind, “How would my life be different?” and “I never shouldn’t have done this.”
And when you cognize life in hindsight, your lived life doesn’t usually compare favorably with your imagined, could-have-been life.
And that’s why you should refrain from ruminating about those non-lived lives—such projections of your mind only instigate sorrow.
Idea for Impact: Sketch the Picture of Our Own Choosing
One of the most effective ways of eliminating regrets is to eliminate the underlying ignorance that is the cause. The wise fancy what the past was once and appreciate how it is molded them. But they no longer desire to live there or evoke the choices of the life that could have been.
As the great Stoics taught, you must reject regret, appreciate that you are now the distillation of all your past choices and experiences, and take the next positive little step. Reflecting on “What do I want to make of all of this?” and “What am I looking forward to?” can clarify your potential.
As Viktor Frankl emphasized in his 1946 masterwork on positive approach to psychological treatment, “Live as if you were living already for the second time, and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”
Who wants to lament the life not lived when you can do dive into the life you’re actually in and do so much good now?
Live this choice. Sketch the picture of our own choosing.