‘What if’ syndrome is FAKE NEWS

Jess Wilby sat outside Manchester town hall speaking about what if syndrome.
Do you ever feel a pang of guilt over missed opportunities? It’s so easy to sit and wonder what life would look like if you went to a different university or took a different career path.

‘What if’ syndrome seems to hit us at our very worse moments. It’s always when you’ve had a bad day and it’s hard to see a positive future, so your mind rubs salt in the wound by saying ‘Hey, it’s your fault because you missed that opportunity to take another path‘.

Don’t worry. This is a red herring.

I whole-heartedly believe that in retrospect, it’s easier to see that you’ve actually been on the right path all along. Let me tell you a little story to illustrate.

The grass isn’t always greener

About a year ago a brand tried to headhunt me for a role. Whilst I wasn’t looking for new opportunities this one landed in my lap, offering double the wage I was currently earning and a glittery name to add to my LinkedIn profile.

I will totally admit that when I received the first email I was stuck. It arrived at a time when I was still living in my old flat, the rent was going up and my overdraft was getting bigger and bigger. I remember saying to my boyfriend ‘I don’t want the job but maybe I need it and that’s why I’ve been given the opportunity.

Call it pride or foresight, I declined the role. The allure of staying at a start up and actually feeling like you’re part of something meant more to me than the potential pay rise.

A few months after, something popped up to get my ‘what if’ syndrome going again.

I went for coffee with a few friends and one of them mentioned being interviewed for the role I was offered. ‘Oh you would have definitely got the role.‘ My friend explained after going through her interview story. She was right, hearing her talk through the spec I knew I would have aced that role.

That night I felt so deflated. We were going through mega changes at work and this missed opportunity had come back to haunt me. It wasn’t that I was unhappy where I was, it was the thought of things being different elsewhere that got to me. Did I throw away my chance at clearing my overdraft and building up my savings?

After a few days I got back into my routine and pushed the thoughts to the back of my mind.

Dodging a bullet

Fast forward to last week when I went to an event representing the start up I currently work for. I felt so comfortable talking about our exciting new projects and really felt like every word I spoke confirmed I was in the right place. This was a business I could really be a part of.

Who did I see next to me? Two reps from the brand that offered me the competing role.

I sat and observed, ear-wigging into their conversation. They looked as if they didn’t want to be there and their conversation painted a picture of a toxic environment full of disgruntled employees. Suddenly my favourite vine sprung to mind…

Thank the universe I didn’t take them up on their offer. I would not have survived there. No amount of money makes up for toxic office culture.

Let me just say, this isn’t the first time this has happened (and it probably won’t be the last). Another time I accepted a role that totally wasn’t right for me at an agency that wasn’t right for anyone. It was a decision made totally in fear of unemployment and I felt so ashamed for a long time.

That was until I received a random direct message on Twitter… Before accepting the job I was ashamed of, I’d interviewed at another agency that looked amazing. The person DMing me worked at that company and said ‘you dodged a bullet, it was such a negative place to work and had a total culture of fear and pressure‘.

Despite being uncomfortable where I was, I was instantly grounded and remembered that things could have been a lot worse.

So how do you apply this to the present?

I promise you that one day you’re not going to hold on to the past because something will have proven to you that the opportunity wasn’t right in the first place; whether it’s dates, friends, education or your career choices. You just need to be open to receiving that message – and you can’t do that if you’re trapped in the ‘what if’ version of the upside down.

Maybe you can’t see it now, but you will eventually. Why? Because life is happening for you, never to you.

Think about where you were three years ago. Did you expect to come so far, wouldn’t the old you be proud of what you’ve achieved? (Yes, old you would probably think you’re a boss.)

The thing is, ‘what if’ syndrome is totally unproductive. So fucking what if you missed something that could have been great. It equally could have been the wrong choice. AND Lest we forget that focusing on the past does absolutely nothing to help you work on the present.

By thinking about what could be, you’re not influencing what will be and that’s dangerous territory.

So take a moment to think about the future, not the past. Where you’re going, not where you could have been. All we have is right here, right now and the only person shaping that is you.

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  1. February 6, 2018 / 10:13 am

    I do this “what if” thing so often, and I definitely should stop. It’s happening to me right now with a job position, so I find your story super motivating to help me get through this!

    • Jess - Actual Philocalist
      February 7, 2018 / 10:48 am

      Hey Michelle, I hear you! It’s a tricky one when it comes to careers because sometimes you feel pushed a certain way just to pay your bills. If you ever wanna chat or just rant about things, hit my up on Twitter @_Philocalist or my email is on the about page. I hope things perk up for you and that you find a solution.

  2. February 6, 2018 / 10:19 am

    I totally believe that everything happens for a positive reason, even when it doesn’t seem so at the time.

    • Jess - Actual Philocalist
      February 7, 2018 / 10:47 am

      You’re SO right, Jo! It doesn’t always seem right at first but in retrospect I always seem to look back on tough times and think “well if ‘insert bad experience’ didn’t happen, then I wouldn’t have learn’t how to deal with ‘X'” I guess there’s always a positive if you’re willing to draw one.

  3. February 6, 2018 / 6:59 pm

    That’s a great life lesson. WE often think the grass is greener, but there’s proof it isn’t always true.

  4. February 6, 2018 / 7:21 pm

    Completely agree, i have recently been testament to the fact the grass is not always greener! It does give you the kick up the bum to do something about it though!

  5. February 6, 2018 / 7:36 pm

    such a lovely post, really made me think. It really is about embracing now and what we want in the future and not just what we think would be better

  6. February 7, 2018 / 1:20 am

    Hands up I probably think ‘what if’ a little too often. But you are right you never know what the what ifs are really better, they could have been awful and you could have dodged a very big bullet.

    • Jess - Actual Philocalist
      February 7, 2018 / 4:37 pm

      I hear you Sarah. I think it’s way too easy to beat yourself up over those ‘what if’ moment and we’re all guilty of it! You never know what could have happened so there’s not much point in holding on to moments like that.

  7. February 7, 2018 / 9:39 am

    I am very much the kind of person who believes that things happen for a reason and you have to trust your gut so good on you for turning down that role x

  8. February 7, 2018 / 3:13 pm

    I believe that good things come to those that wait and you have to work hard to be offered opportunities. I don’t always believe everything I hear as often disgruntled employees are in the wrong job themselves

    • Jess - Actual Philocalist
      February 7, 2018 / 3:48 pm

      So true, Kara. I guess it’s a catch 22 isn’t it, because you start to wonder is the place bad because there are negative vibez in the office or is there negative vibez in the office because the place is bad? Either way, I feel like I’m in the right place now and I’m glad that in retrospect I can look back and see that.

  9. February 7, 2018 / 5:16 pm

    This is such a great post. I spend half my life battling off the ‘what if’ syndrome but ultimately, who knows? So why spend time worrying about it – things happen for a reason an maybe we need to just go with that more.
    C x

  10. February 7, 2018 / 8:33 pm

    I was taught that everything happens for a reason, it’s because of this I don’t think ‘what if’ it can really get to you at times and drag you down.

  11. February 7, 2018 / 11:56 pm

    This is a lovely post, and you are so right. There is no point in holding onto ‘What If’ moments, as you have proved – everything happens for a reason!

  12. February 8, 2018 / 7:43 am

    This was such a great post! I’m one of those people that thinks everything happens for a reason to get us where we need to go, always go with your gut and it will work out in the end x

  13. February 8, 2018 / 9:52 am

    The What If syndrome is so dangerous! I always try to make a decision and stick to it and don’t think about the what ifs…cause if I do, I end up being really upset that I had made the wrong decision.

  14. February 8, 2018 / 10:00 am

    Great post – I generally try to avoid thinking ‘what if’ or regretting things in the past, because there’s nothing you can do to change the past. Better to focus on the present and future!

  15. February 8, 2018 / 12:41 pm

    You’re totally right! The grass isn’t always greener and my mummy rarely thinks ‘what if’ as it isn’t a good mindset to be in x We believe in fate and ‘if it’s meant for you it won’t pass you by’

  16. February 8, 2018 / 1:02 pm

    This is really relavant to me at the moment as I’m going through a bit of a hard time and I’m trying to focus on the future but it’s hard and you do apply the what if principals.

  17. February 8, 2018 / 6:29 pm

    I could not agree more with this post! Too many “What If’s” are just counter productive and the grass really isn’t greener. Make the most of opportunities IF they suit you and your circumstances, however don’t get fooled but something that seems too good to be true…..Job satisfaction for me is far more important than money.

  18. Dannii
    February 9, 2018 / 10:31 am

    I believe that everything happens for a reason. There are opportunities where we don’t even expect them.

  19. Hannah Denton
    February 20, 2018 / 8:00 am

    Oh yes! That’s so true, there is totally no point dwelling on the what ifs, it’s all about the future and creating the best form of happiness!