The trouble with trying to live down your past isn't just that it's over. It's that you can't get over it. The only thing you can change now is your mind, and we have some Q advice that might help.
About 10 years ago, I face a choice between the love and home that was known to me, and the chance to venture away into an unchartered life with someone new.
At the time, the love of my life had grown from a friendship when we were quite young, and it fulfilled all of its promise and then some. We had been there for each other, we shared memories of overcoming hardship and of deep, unbridled human joys.
The new guy was not just an adventure for me, but an adventurer by nature. Letting go of the past would mean jetting off to fulfill parts of my deepest self that had always wondered what was out there.
… I recently ran into the person I didn’t choose the other day for the first time in a very long time. I see how happy they are and wonder if I made the wrong choice. How can I be sure?
Dear Road Not Taken:
We’ve purposely left out which path you chose so that we may all sit with a human reality and bask in its existential truth and beauty. For the purposes of this little experiment and by way of an answer, it doesn’t matter which way you went except in hindsight.
None of us will ever know how the life we didn’t choose might have turned out. We can only know that it didn’t. That unchosen life doesn’t exist. A great writer once called it “the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”
The trick is leaning into it. The same was true when you were back at that crossroads and when you’re at your next one: Lean into the uncertainty, go with your best gut feeling, and know that there is no wrong answer. Whichever way you go will be the way you went.
When I was in my teens and 20s, I was kind of a bad person. I lied by force of habit. I stole for fun. I kept toxic secrets and hid who I was. I hurt people if it served me. I would do almost anything that I knew was wrong if I thought I could get away with it.
Several years ago, I started to turn a new leaf. Working toward a clear conscience has given me untold amounts of relief as I try to balance the bad things I’ve done with good.
This may sound weird, but part of me still thinks I’m just a bad person living the lie of a good one. I’m afraid of being “found out” and of slipping back into my old habits. Is there hope for me?
Every person reading this has a dark side, and more than a handful have spent time indulging it. It’s also common to feel guilty to the point of feeling beyond redemption. No matter the level of our indiscretions and poor decisions, there are few who don’t look back and wince sometimes.
There’s also a common psychological phenomenon called Imposter Syndrome — that we are a fraud and could get caught being less fabulous than we purport to be. Shrinks say it’s a manifestation of a healthy self-check system that’s just gone slightly askew.
That you’re not alone in these feelings isn’t the point, but knowing that lots of other people have been where you are should offer some hope. Rather than focus on the past, focus on what you can control — the present.
It’s true you are the person who did bad things, but you are also the person who takes steps every day to do better. Every “good” act changes who you are fundamentally, and Future You is built with an increasing number of those better behaviors to outweigh the older ones.
Who we were and who we are do have to share the same brain and body, but they can be reconciled to coexist for a better path going forward.
The Q is for entertainment purposes and not professional counseling. Send your burning Qs to [email protected].
Illustration by Brad Gibson