For the last several months, I’ve been writing about letting go and moving forward; getting unstuck and reuniting with lost dreams. I’ve also been writing about heroes and victims and the power of words and the stories we tell ourselves and others.
In this vein, I’ve been thinking about how we often find ourselves lamenting if onlies. “If only he had been willing to change…” “If only I had more time to finish my projects…” “If only I had this or if only he/she/they had done that…” “If only I could…” We torment ourselves in any number of ways – whining, musing, wondering, yet staying stuck all the same. If onlies are about those things over which we feel powerless to change, whether people or events outside of ourselves or our own (mis)perceived personal limitations or struggles. They are about playing the victim and avoiding personal responsibility. They are the excuses we allow ourselves and they reek of fear, apathy and defeat. “If-only” is dis-empowerment at its core.
Let’s try a different phrase on for size. Let’s play around with “what if…” Not the what-ifs that breed worry and inaction, but a different kind of what-if. The kind of question that breeds hope and the belief in what’s possible by asking, “What if instead of allowing ourselves to feel victimized and stuck, we made a different choice? A bold choice…an affirming and fully present choice?” “What if we accepted what is, instead of focusing our energy on what could have been, should have been, or might have been?” “What if we chose to act, instead of react?”
If onlies suggest that we are not happy with our present and sometimes that is true. We believe that events and other people or sometimes even ourselves, are the cause of our misery and that we have been dealt a bad hand. Maybe you’ve made a mistake; maybe someone or something has hurt you; maybe you have a physical ailment that you blame for holding you back. Life is not always kind or fair, it’s true. But once we truly accept that fact, we discover that even amidst the rubble, there is great beauty and joy to be found in this life, too, though you have to be willing to look past limitations to the possibilities; you have to be willing to shift from passivity to accountable action.
If you’ve been dealt a bad hand or you’ve played your cards poorly, you still have choices. You have the choice of attitude (which, by the way, often shapes our actions (or inaction)). You have the choice of playing your hand as-is, or folding your cards. You can quit, change, act, rise-up, or simply surrender in peace. But victimhood, should you choose to stay stuck, is a choice as well.
How do the phrases “if only” and “what if” shape your life? Are they catalysts for change or an excuse to stay stuck? Do you own your choices, including your attitude, or do you resign yourself to playing the role of passive victim? If you could eliminate the phrase “if only…” from your life, what impact might that have? Do you routinely look for and find the gems hidden amidst the rubble, or believe that the rubble is all that there is?