Taking The Road Less Traveled And Loving The Trip
I was listening to a friend the other day and he was bemoaning a decision he made that had negative consequences. He was saying that if he had only done this other thing then the results would have been much different and he wouldn’t be feeling like such a loser. I have to admit I have uttered those words myself in the past, kicking myself for some decision I made that had a negative outcome. As you can imagine, an alcoholic has many such moments because a life while drinking is filled with seemingly poor decisions.
After listening to my friend cuss himself out for a few minutes I was struck by the futility of such a reaction. We are, after all, only human and as such perfect in our imperfections. Life is comprised of millions of decisions; some of them work out the way we planned and some don’t. No matter how they work out it is inevitable that there will be consequences. The Law of Cause and Effect takes place every single day; each action that we take and every decision that we make has consequences which of course lead to other actions and other effects and on and on it goes.
I am reminded of an old joke often told around the halls of Alcoholics Anonymous: If you want to make God laugh tell Him your plans! So it is with life! We are planners; we go about our lives making plans and then revising those plans and eventually making new plans. This is what we do. We are amazingly resilient in our ability to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start all over again. There is discouragement for sure and often heartbreak and depression when plans we counted on fall through and fail but we keep moving forward.
All of this of course led me to take a look at the major decisions I made during my life and I played a game of what if? Would you like to join me on this trip back in time?
WHAT IF HAD HANDLED THINGS DIFFERENTLY AFTER MY DAD DIED?
When my dad died in 1969 I was a junior in college, entertaining thoughts of going back for a fifth year and getting my teaching degree to go along with my Business degree. I was dating a lovely girl named Eva and we were quite close and getting closer with each passing day. The future looked bright; I had a plan and it looked something like eventually marrying Eva, raising a family and being a teacher for years until retirement. I could easily see us having three children, living in a ranch-style home somewhere and living the family dream.
Upon the death of my father all of that went up in smoke. I went into a depression and broke off the relationship with Eva. Because I had to support my mother as soon as possible I did not go back to college for that fifth year and instead went out and found immediate employment.
I supported my mother for five years and eventually quit my job and went back to get my teaching degree. I felt cheated for years because I had to grow up so quickly and start making adult decisions when I wasn’t emotionally ready to do so. I never saw Eva again and often thought how wonderful it would have been had I allowed her to help me emotionally instead of pushing her away.
WHAT IF I HADN’T STARTED DRINKING WHEN I WAS TWENTY-FIVE?
Oh my goodness, where do I start? Once my personal devil, alcohol, was allowed to see the light of day my life began a gradual decline. It began with one dark beer but soon escalated until we reached the point where alcohol was my constant companion, my best friend and in time my crutch.
What would have happened if I had made the decision not to drink? I wouldn’t have been divorced. I wouldn’t have lost jobs and businesses and caused so many people emotional pain. I wouldn’t have robbed myself of so many years that were spent instead inside of the bottle.
What could I have produced as a legacy if alcohol had not ruled my life for decades? How much good could I have done if not under the influence? What moments of greatness were never experienced because of the constant state of unmanageability?
WHAT IF I HAD REMAINED A TEACHER ALL OF THOSE YEARS RATHER THAN SWITCHING JOBS SO OFTEN?
Eighteen years of teaching in a thirty-four year span! What if I had stayed with teaching all of those years? How many students could I have impacted during those “off” years? How many lives could I have positively changed? How much change could I have brought about in the field of education? How many more teachers could I have trained?
I bemoan the current state of education in this country and yet I chose not to stick with it for sixteen years and instead headed off on another path, always searching for greener pastures. What does that say about me as a person, someone who had a gift as a teacher and yet ignored that gift at the expense of his students?
WHAT IF I HAD MANAGED MY FINANCES BETTER AND INVESTED OVER THE YEARS?
How much money have I made in my sixty-three years? We could do some fast math. Let’s say forty-five years of full-time employment and just for this discussion let’s say I averaged forty-thousand dollars per year over that span and that may be a conservative estimate. That comes out to roughly $1,800,000 earned over my lifetime. My current bank account has $200 in it!
What if I had invested $500 per year over that time period? I would currently have $22,500 if I had just put it in savings; if I had actually invested it how much would I have now? It is safe to say I would have more than $200.
Every action has a consequence, even the insignificant actions of our lifetime. One decision puts into motion other events which lead to other decisions and actions which of course lead to others until sixty-three years have passed and here I am today telling you that I have never been happier. Why you ask?
If I had stayed with Eva all those years ago and married her and had a family I would never have met the love of my life, Bev. With Bev I have found more happiness than I even believed was possible and each day is a new lesson in the true meaning of love. How can I possibly regret any action that eventually led me to Bev’s doorstep? Simple answer….I can’t!
If I hadn’t begun my journey into alcoholism I would have never eventually recovered and learned what is truly important in life. Through Alcoholics Anonymous I learned how to change myself and in the process how to change my self-destructive behaviors. I have come out of that living nightmare a new and improved human being so in truth there are nothing but happy and rewarding consequences attached to my alcoholic journey.
What if I had continued teaching all those years? As I look back I realize that I was a much better teacher towards the end of my career than I was at the beginning. Why? I believe it is because of all the life experiences I have had. Learning new trades, dealing with daily trials, trying new careers and rebounding from setbacks, all made me the person I am today. Without those how could I possibly teach kids about life? I had to live life in order to pass on any lessons about life.
Yes I have made a ton of money over my lifetime and I have owned possessions and play things and it all led me to this point: I now have a true appreciation of life and all it has to offer without money in the mix. I was not happy with money nor was I happy constantly trying to make more; it was a need inside of me that money could not satisfy. Today I do not have that need for false stimulation; money has no hold over me. I have learned to live with much less and in the process learned to be happy and contented. What is the value of that lesson?
AND THE POINT IS…..
The point is, very simply, that all of my experiences, all the decisions, all the outcomes led me to where I am today and that is a place of happiness and contentment. Would I have ended up where I am today if a different set of experiences had happened? I have no way of knowing but what I do know is it would be silly of me to regret a single moment of my past when the final result was happiness and a life filled with love.
I have often heard people say, “If I knew then what I know now things would have been different.” Pretty true words but would things have been better? I have people in my life today who I cherish and for the first time in a very long time I feel loved AND love myself. Why in the world would I long for different decisions in the past which may have led to a different outcome?
Is the grass always greener on the other side? I have taken the road less travelled for a good portion of my life, constantly looking for greener grass. I am finally knee-deep in the most luscious grass a man can imagine and I think I’ll stop looking for a different shade of green.
2012 Bill Holland (aka billybuc)
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