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…
4. fuck off Janet, I'm not going to your FUCKING baby shower https://t.co/7yOoRgtnKJ
— lil timb (@nxckyrodriguez) July 13, 2016
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.