The Three Words I Am Most Afraid Of

There are a lot of phobias out there. Spiders, sharks, even mustard. (Yes, mustard.) And sure, there is a lot to be afraid of in this world. But mostly, humans are afraid of the collective “unknown.” They’re afraid of not knowing what is going to happen when they hold that spider, jump into the ocean, or er…make a burger.

And so, what am I afraid of? Well, three little words. I bet you are trying out all the most obvious calculations right now: I love you, You are fired, You’re wearing that?

But it isn’t any of those. It’s “could have been.”

I think most of our lives are spent battling the “could have beens.” Our entire existence consists of ordering the dessert we want and then seeing some other frosty cake pass by our table, making our mouths water. And sometimes, “could have been” is not getting dessert at all. It’s bypassing the sweets so that you can make sacrifices for your entree, so to speak.

You have to understand that “could have been” carries with it the most pungent sense of loss. It is the epitome of the “unknown,” and thus, manifests as the most frightening. When you are off being something else, there is always the allure of what “could have been,” but there is no way to see what it is without abandoning your pursuits completely.

As a writer, “could have been” is especially painful. You write a story or a poem, and you abandon it in an old notebook. You have a brilliant idea for a short story, but you forget to write it down. You send out your writing into the world as one thing when there are about fifty other plot lines that you could have delved into. I guess that’s why there are so many sequels of movies and books that could have simply ended where they did (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones television show. )

The difficult part about life, though, is that there aren’t any sequels. Despite appearances, there really are no second chances. Life is like a tree with so many branches. Each branch represents an opportunity, and when you travel down the length of one limb, the other branches are suddenly out of your reach.

So, what is a person to do with his or her “could have beens”? Make them into something. Even if you can’t do what you have set out to accomplish in the first place, do something. It will take the emphasis off what “could have been” and give you back all of the wonderful things that you are.

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