The Lives We Won't Live
I sit on the countertop wearing soft leggings, a thick bathrobe, contemplating the many lives I could but will never have.
I could be drinking water instead of the green tea that just burned my tongue. I could be living in my parent’s house, saving money, instead of this $1,300 apartment built on the edge of Santa Monica’s city lines. I could have chosen to pursue accounting, or law school, or a freelance business instead of my nonprofit, 9-5 office job. I could have said no to invitations when I first moved to LA—chosen not to pursue friendships with the people that now mean the most to me. I could have never left my college boyfriend. I could have never downloaded the dating app that introduced me to my current one.
I could have never given up on the book I wrote as a teenager. I could have pursued self-publishing. I could have never chosen writing as my career path—I could have prioritized a career that led me to an impressive salary instead of a passion that might never see success.
I could have filled my closet with colors instead of blacks and greys. I could have chosen to get into bitcoin instead of Lifetime movies. I could have moved somewhere far out in the countryside. Saved money I spent on clothes and food toward more vacations. Spent my weekends volunteering in soup kitchens instead of driving back and forth between Santa Monica and my family home.
I like to write out what I imagine my dream life looking like whenever I’m facing a time when I find it hard to stay excited. Remind myself to prioritize the things I truly desire, invest my energy in the things that will transfer joy back to me. Tonight, in my leggings and my bathrobe, holding the mug of steaming green tea that burnt my tongue on the first sip, I curl my legs up on my kitchen countertop. Sit in silence with a notebook and pen.
What is it that I want? Are the paths I’ve taken leading me down roads I no longer want to be on?
Our lives are the culmination of a series of decisions—the ones we unconsciously make and the ones we painstakingly deliberate over. Every so often, I realize how many of my habits were formed without my consent. I realize how much energy I’ve been wasting in activities that do not serve me.
Sometimes erasing the unease is as simple as deciding to stop looking at social media. To wake up earlier in the morning and give myself more hours in the day. Sometimes it looks like changing the type of content I’m consuming, turning the self-help books in for a Bible, the heavy fiction in for something lighthearted.
Sometimes it’s much harder. Wondering if the passions that have driven me in the past still serve me. Wondering if my career path has taken a turn toward something I could want, but never dreamed about. Looking at the people in my life, the relationships I love, figuring out how to invest in each of them in the ways they deserve.
These choices, the easy and the difficult, will determine the direction of my life. The paths I don’t take will change what future opportunities open to me. It’s paralyzing, giving our choices this much power.
So I read through my notebook, read through the scenarios my life might been made of if I’d taken other paths.
But I feel no ounce of regret.
I could have chosen law school, but I never wanted to spend my days reading case studies. I could have chosen to live in my parents’ house, but I would never have known the joy of walking through my neighborhood down to the ocean. I could have decided not to be a writer, but I’m certain I would have found my way back to the blank page every day, in every life.
Our lives form through the choices we make, but not because we’ve made the wrong or right decisions. Our dreams shift and adapt to the paths we’re following, to the circumstances we’re handed.
At the top of my notebook, I write, Be present.
Present to the life I’m in. Present to the people I’m with. Present to the habits I form. Present to the good and to the bad. To the fear and to the joy. To the choices made and unmade. To the silent nights alone in my apartment, sitting on countertops, dreaming my way to the life I hope to live.
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