Letting Go of the Past & the ‘What Ifs’

Whenever I think of “what ifs”, my mind automatically thinks back to the film ‘Sliding Doors’. Gwyneth Paltrow plays a role that sees her character live in two parallel universes – one where she misses the train, the other where she doesn’t. In both universes, the events that follow are quite different to each other. This leaves the viewers to ask themselves, “What if I had done something differently? Would my life be different?” Although it is normal to question how your life has turned out, sometimes focusing too much on the “what ifs” can do more harm than good.

It’s normal to wonder

All of us wonder about the choices we’ve made, the people we’ve said goodbye to, our decision to live here or there, the career path we’re on. Life isn’t easy, sometimes it’s downright hard. And sometimes we just don’t have the right answers. But all of us have felt this sort of confusion at one stage or another.

Letting_Go_of_the_Past_What_IfsPhoto Credit: graur codrin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For example, we might wonder…

  • “What if I had worked harder? Would I have a better job now?”
  • “What if I’m meant to be on a different career path?”
  • “What if moving cities was a mistake?”
  • “What if I had tried harder with my previous relationship? Would I still be with that person?”

It’s normal to question whether you could be happier than you are right now, especially when the present doesn’t look too promising.

Taking responsibility and accepting reality

But as easy as it is to question how your life has unfolded, you also need to take responsibility for how your life has turned out.

Sometimes life doesn’t happen the way you want it to – you lose the person you thought you’d love forever, your career dreams are shattered, you had a set plan for your life but it just didn’t work out.

But you need to accept reality for what it is.

Not letting the “what ifs” rule your life

We will always wonder whether we’ve made the right choices. We will always question whether we’ve ‘done the right thing’.

But wishing for something does not make it true. We can’t torture ourselves with the past, we must move onto the future.

Maybe your life happened the way it was meant to.

  • Maybe if you’d worked harder, you could have had a better job. But who says you’d be happier?
  • Maybe you are meant to be on a different career path. But what’s stopping you from doing something about it now?
  • Maybe moving cities wasn’t the best decision at the time. But who says you won’t find a job? Who says you won’t make friends? Who says you won’t learn to adapt?
  • Maybe if you’d tried harder, your previous relationship could have worked out. But who knows for how long?

Rather than assuming that different choices would have made you happier, be appreciative of the happiness that you have right now.

Have faith in your ability to make the right decisions. Have faith that you are making the right choices in life.

Don’t let the past control you. Learn to control the future.

Instead of constantly asking, “What if?”, take responsibility and ask, “What can I do about my life right now?”

Did this post help you? Or could you relate to it? Then I'd LOVE if you shared my writing!

Thuy Yau is a freelance writer and Youth Work graduate living in Perth, Australia. She loves to share personal stories about overcoming adversity, as she believes that human beings are more capable than they realise. She writes to make a positive difference in the world and to inspire others to learn from themselves and their own experiences. Her writing has been discussed on radio, won writing contests, appeared on The Huffington Post UK and major Australian sites such as news.com.au, SMH, Kidspot and Essential Kids. She volunteers her time as Newspaper Project Manager for Millennium Kids, a youth empowerment organisation.

8 Replies to “Letting Go of the Past & the ‘What Ifs’”

  1. Nice post! Learn to accept your life as it is without questioning too much on the “what ifs” because otherwise you’ll be questioning all day and for what? Because the past has already happen. It isn’t like you can change it the harder you ponder.

    This is something I’m going through at the moment where I’m questioning “what if I had done this” or “if I had done that what would my life be like now” But after reading your blog piece it has given me some perspective. Good advice on thinking about the future. Better to invest in time towards something you can change =)

    1. So true, Ben. All of us, even myself, have trouble dealing with the ‘what ifs’. In fact, it’s something I’m also going through at the moment. But when I start to ponder this, I remember, what ‘could’ have happened, didn’t happen. So rather than feel sad, disappointed, or angry about the past, I should focus on the future. And the great thing is, the future is something we CAN still change. Thank you for reading, and I hope your life starts to turn around real soon! 🙂

  2. […] rather than regretting the past, we need to see the brighter side to it. We need to accept that all our past experiences […]

  3. Thank you so much for writing this Thuy. I was going through exactly this for the 20 th time since i moved back home from London after pursuing a career in Media, to a smaller town where i was born. That was 15 years ago. I have held onto the dream of moving back to a city i love and friends i left behind. They have all moved on and so has London. I still remain stuck in the past and regret not trying harder, throwing away great career opportunities due to fear, not having a mix of people who i totally clicked with , because mostly it’s easy to find open cultured people in London and other southern cities in comparison to the north of England. However my beautiful family are here and this is where i was born. I feel a bit bitter about it all.But after doing some soul searching and reading your article i feel alot better and counted all the amazing things in my life right now, there are so many, it’s endless. I just forget sometimes. Thank you for making the world a tiny bit better:)

    1. Hi Tamar,

      That is so wonderful that my post has had such a positive impact on you. I think it’s great that you’re aware of how you’ve been feeling – it is healthier for us to accept how we feel than to be in denial. I think life truly is full of a lot of ‘what ifs’ but truth is, we can’t change what’s already happened. We can, however, change how we feel right now and what we can do in the future. I’m glad that you’ve reached some form of closure and am able to view life with plenty of gratitude. Thank you for your kind comment and for reading! Wishing you all the best 🙂

  4. […] that sometimes we could have made better choices. But I don’t believe in holding onto the past. No matter how much we wish things were different, the truth is – they can’t be. […]

  5. How about if the “what ifs”are not based on the past rather the future or unknown future connected to the past when having no self-awareness and lack of communication?

    1. Hmm, that’s an interesting thought, Kate. I think everyone has a different level of self-awareness and communication ability – but it’s something that we can work on. It’s important to spend time focusing on the present, though, and not focusing all our energy on the past and/or future. It is definitely harder sometimes, but if we don’t stop to enjoy the present – then we’re never really living life. Thank you for your comment! 🙂

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