Or you’re relaxing on your couch, unwinding from a busy day, when you see David Smith (of Olint Investment fame) or Bernie Madoff (no explanation needed) in handcuffs, and you realize your life’s savings are not only down the toilet but flushed all the way to the Arctic Ocean—in other words, gone forever unless you can befriend a polar bear to help you find them.
Who would have thought that the DUI you got when you were nineteen could actually prevent you from being admitted to the bar years later when you realized all you want in life is to practice law? And how would you ever have known that the love of your life, who helped wreck your credit before running off to Brazil with your best friend, would demolish (along with your heart) all your hopes for home ownership for at least another decade? These are the sobering moments that happen upon most of us at some point in our lives, moments when what appeared to be a fairly sane choice at the time changes the landscape of our existence. Forever.
As we grope our way through the consequences of our choices, how easy it is for us to feel as if the opportunity to have a happy and fulfilling life has slipped from our hands, like a glass ball in heavily greased palms. How apparent it may seem that the life we thought we were scurrying towards, before we agreed to cosign for a car for that deserter in Brazil, has disappeared forever, and we’ll never be able to recoup this lost life because it’s melting fast, like ice in hot oil.
I’ve certainly had my share of these moments that involve an obsessive rethinking of my life and how much better it could have been. I go through every possible permutation of how glorious things could have been if I’d made different choices. A lot of this obsessing took place while as thirty-something year old with a family and bills I was hauling myself through graduate school. I can’t tell you how often I had torturous dreams about the wonderful existence I would have/could have had if I’d just launched right into a master’s program when I was twenty-three and graduating with my bachelor’s. If I were smarter, if I were more ambitious, if I’d not gotten pregnant with my beautiful son, and if I’d known just what I wanted to do with myself (cause who needs more than twenty-two years to figure that out?), life would have/could have been soooooo much better.
This lost life I’d dream of was always glorious and filled with personal and professional success: fancy cars, designer suits, a fantastic job, and brilliant children (which as it turns out I happen to have in my real life). And very importantly, in this lost life I was always slender (which as it turns out I am NOT in my real life). This lost life that haunted me was sort of like the perfect setting that you see in a snow globe—aside from the occasional flutter of falling snow, everything stays intact, superbly neat and orderly.
But I’ve now come to think differently about this elusive snow globe life that I imagine to be as perfect as a snowflake because it’s not real, and I don’t think the happiness I’ve come to associate with this fantasy life is all that elusive after all. I’ve come to believe that our lives work sort of like a GPS. We have a destination (hopefully) that we’re trying to reach, but at times we ignore our guidance system that’s yelling “Stop!” or “Turn right in fifty yards!” Next thing we know we’ve missed a turn and we’re heading for The Florida Keys. So just when we think we’re going to have to set up house in Key Largo because we can’t get back to Miami, we hear those comforting words from the GPS, “Recalculating,” and seconds later we have a whole new route mapped out for us!
Life works this way as well! Each time we miss a turn, life provides a new set of directions. These may take us on a longer more convoluted path to our destination, but if we follow carefully, we’ll get there. Another thing is that sometimes we change our destination, and we’re nothing short of blessed that we never got where we were originally going (getting stuck in Key Largo is not the worst thing that can happen).
This, I believe, is the beauty of our lives. Just like that clunky GPS that annoys us constantly but that we’d trade our partner to keep, life knows when we’re not heading in the right direction. But our life GPS, what some people know as intuition, is trying to help us live our best life, and it keeps mapping new paths for us with every exit we miss. Our job is to remain hopeful about the possibility of overcoming these wrong turns and, quite frankly, to simply smash those darn snow-globe lives each time they float into our thoughts. Obsessing about how your journey might have been if you didn’t get lost 4 miles back is never helpful with getting you back on track.
Unfortunately, we may not always make use of the new opportunities life presents us, and we may repeat the same mistakes, but like that wretched and persistent GPS, life just keeps on recalculating, even if our new journey has to take us to the North Pole and back just to get us down the street.