One of the things that I’ve found follows me through life is the wondering questions, “what if…”
What if I had majored in x?
What if that relationship had worked out?
What if I had made that move after all?
What if I had turned left instead of right?
I think this idea is most beautifully expressed in Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken:
The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I love these two lines of the poem:
“Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back…”
It’s true. There are many decisions we never get to come back to.
In Science fiction, there’s a popular trope of the alternate universe. A parallel world where at one time, one decision was changed and everything that followed was different.
My favorite example of this is the alternate universe episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space 9
. I’ll be honest, I prefer the DS9 universe where people are kind, ethical, work hard, solve problems, etc. But it’s fun, about once a season, to imagine that this utopian world could have
been different. darker. That things weren’t destined to turn out that way.
What does this have to do with motivation?
Sometimes, I find myself falling into the trap of regretting the roads not taken in my life: the opportunities turned down, the choices made or not made.
Then, I remember that there could be an alternate universe out there. A place where I did make that decision. There could be millions upon millions of alternate Maggie’s in the parallel universes out there living out all the dreams, hopes, and desires that I can’t fit into this one life that I am living. She’s living with the positive and negative side effects of that decision, just as I am living with the positive and negative side effects of the decisions I’ve made in my life.
Then, for whatever decision I’m feeling wistful about today, I wish that alternate universe Maggie well.
I hope that whatever decision she made – whether it was to choose a different job, travel the world, spend a year in silent meditation in a cave in Bangladesh, become a vegan – worked out well for her and that she’s happy. Then, I choose to wish myself well, too. Because unless we discover an anomaly in the space-time continuum, this is the only universe I get to experience. And I get to experience less of it when I’m dreaming and imaging I’m living some other version of my life.
So, I hope you enjoy our wonderful universe this week, and wish all of the alternate realities out there a great week, too!