“What would my life have been if…?” – About the poisonous force of regret

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Sometimes it hits me, as I’m sure it hits you. And when it does, it shows no mercy. Moments when we tear up in random places, in random moments, just like that, with no warning. My moments are: Walking through Harvard Yard in Cambridge and feeling the centuries-old holy aura of the place take over my consciousness. Standing in front of the Metropolitan Opera after strolling by Julliard Music School in New York. Being a guest at the grand opening of the Salzburg Festival, dressed in my best attire and hearing a world class performance of Orfeo et Euridice, followed by an intimate reception with the conductor and the choreograph. What is it that both hurts and elevates one so much in these moments?

I’m starting to realize that it’s showing two things. Number one: Your passion! I have a huge addiction to culture and the performing arts, and more specifically to music. That was the easy one. But more importantly number two, as a most painful awakening: the pain we feel in our chests in these moments comes from regret. Regret in its most definite and ultimate sense. Regret to not have included into our lives all that is important to us. Regret to not have read the signs and seen all the crossroads in life when they presented themselves.

Does this sound familiar at all? I bet it does. Lets not over-dramatize. Generally I like my life, and I bet you like yours too. We’ve done many things right. And I’m proud of many of my achievements. But what becomes more and more obvious is that our life is limited, and there is always a certain trade-off in decision making. And that you create your own personal “what-would’ve-happened-if” moments along the way.

For me these key moments are: “What if I would’ve”:

  • practiced the piano more thoroughly when I was still on my strongest learning curve?
  • taken a year off after school to travel the world as I wanted to?
  • made a far more conscious decision about my undergraduate studies in regards to both content and school?
  • accepted the apprenticeship as a journalist with that German economic magazine?

The list goes on and on. And so does life and its complexities. But when you pause, just as in a movie, you start seeing all these different realities unfolding before your inner eyes. What if you would paint a different reality, one that would be the result of different decision making in the past? Let’s dream for a second! I’m pretty sure I would be a journalist and artistic adviser to cultural institutions in classical music internationally. Lots of music and art and innovation and change and interesting people around me. Lots of countries, movement, change and challenge…

Where would you be?

In the end, all that matters is that we accept our current reality as one of many possible ones, but as a clear result of our conscious decision making throughout the years. And although it is an interesting play, one thing is clear: For some reason, they were the right decisions for us at that point. We made them as the people we were back then, not the ones we are today. At the best of our abilities and knowledge – even if (or even because) we had less information, guts, and faith. How much we get to know ourselves only over the years!

Is there a sense in looking back and questioning what if? Maybe. Maybe not. It certainly doesn’t change reality. But sometimes a little dreaming is not the worst thing to do and pays tribute to all the complexities of one’s self. Either way, life is incredibly exciting! A little tearing up once in a while will remind us of this, and of how  incredibly grateful we should all be for this unique journey of life – a continuous chain of decisions.

Live it up! And make smart decisions!

Always yours,

Kathrin


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