I am a recovering second-guesser. I struggle with questioning almost every decision I make: What if I had ordered the fajitas instead of the mole? Should I have bought the higher end toaster oven? What if I had become a teacher from the beginning instead of studying something else first? What if we had stayed in Venezuela or moved to another country instead of moving back to the States? What if I had not left the classroom to become an instructional coach? What if I had done things differently as a parent, as a wife, as a daughter? etc. etc. etc. This kind of thinking not only leads to a lot of personal anxiety, it also drives the people around you crazy. It makes them feel as if they are the mistakes you made; what you settled for instead of what you have gained. Worse of all, it stops you from being present and committed to what you actually did choose to do. One of the perks of reaching middle age is that you begin to let go of some of these destructive patterns of thought. We don’t have to wait for old age to rehabilitate, however. So here are some thoughts that have helped me battle doubt and indecision:
I had a boss back in my chemical plant days who used to tell me: You make the best decision you can with the information you have at the time. I now would add to that: You make the best decision you can, with the information and the spiritual maturity you have at the time. John Dewey says: “We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience.” So the better question to ask is: What did I learn from making this choice? And not: What if I had done things differently? The first offers the possibility of doing things better the next time, moving forward. The second just takes me on a trip to the land of fantasy.
There is so much uncertainty in this life. I believe it is actually designed to be that way. How else would we learn to be detached, to rely on God and to let go? Even if we are very careful and mature and collect all the necessary information, we can never be a 100% sure that we made the best decision. So what’s the point? I think what matters is how we live through our choices and not so much what choices we made. Do I take responsibility for this choice or do I blame others? Do I continue to treat people around me with love and respect or do I become resentful and take out my disappointment on those closest and dearest to me? Do I do the best I can because pursuing excellence is who I am or do I take the path of mediocrity because this is not what I really wanted to do?
Kicking a bad habit also requires a support system. I have been blessed with a life partner who does not dwell on the past and does not indulge me either. Reminding people how they could have done things differently and more perfectly just adds salt to the wound and encourages the second-guessing. It paralyzes the most vulnerable ones from making any decisions at all. When we are caught in the cycle of doubt and self-recrimination, the best thing someone can do for us is to point out what we have gained from the experience, what we have that we wouldn’t otherwise. When it’s all said and done, I am pretty sure we will not be judged on the accuracy of our choices but the quality of our characters while living with those choices.
And every day offers a new possibility for doing better, choosing better and being better.