If you could go back in time, what is one thing you would do differently?
This is a question I’ve heard asked of people, often, in one form or another over the years.
I would sit on the edge of my seat awaiting their answers; trying to take it all in, making mental notes to be sure I would not do whatever it was they recommended not doing, or do more of whatever it was they didn’t do enough of.
I would play with my kids more. Make more time for myself. Let the house go. Have more date nights. Follow my dreams. Not sweat the small stuff. Take better care of my health. Focus on my marriage. Not pick up toys.
Okay. Alright. Uh huh.
The answers people give in response to this question always make a lot of sense. Their words are filled with wisdom built from life experience. This is their truth.
The problem is, I would hear their words and make them my truth. As members of the panel would reveal the one thing they would do differently if they had a magic time machine, I could feel the anxiety begin to slowly well up inside.
Play with my kids more. Yep. I definitely need to do that.
Make more time for myself. Most definitely. Need to figure out how to go to the bathroom by myself. How do I get the kids out of there?
Let the house go. Okay. Gotta let that go. It’s hard for me, but I don’t want to miss this. I don’t want to regret anything. What happens when all the dishes are dirty though? Then what? Is that how far I should let this go? What is the definition of “let the house go”?
And on and on.
The last time I heard this question asked in a panel I thought, “oh no. Not again.” And in that moment I realized, this question I once enjoyed hearing people answer, is one I have grown to dislike.
But why? Why did I go from enjoying it, to cringing a little on the inside whenever I hear it being asked?
I think it boils down to this: why do we want people to make a mental trip back in time to isolate the one thing they feel like they didn’t do well enough?
I know it’s for the purpose of helping us live our lives to the fullest.
I know it’s meant to be helpful and encouraging.
But the premise of this question is – what is the one thing you would do over if you could? Which implies we should have something we want to do over.
And for a recovering perfectionist bent toward anxiety, this isn’t good.
Instead of feeling encouraged and motivated, I begin to think of all of the things I may currently be doing wrong that I will very possibly someday regret.
And what about the panel members? Are they now sitting there harboring some kind of silent guilt for whatever that thing is they would do over if they get ahold of said time machine?
Now they feel guilty. And I feel guilty.
And the next thing you know, I have gone to some distant future and am imagining myself sitting on one of these panels and wondering what thing it is that I may want to change at some point in the future.
See why I struggle with this question?
The reality is, we all are doing the best we can. Some days we are rocking it. Some days are okay. And some days simply are not.
And this is life.
Nobody, and I mean nobody, is walking around getting it all right. There is not one person who has found the perfect balance between work and play, cleanliness and disorder, personal space and family time, and so on and so forth. Everyone has something they need to work on. Everyone has something they excel in, and things that just don’t come quite as natural.
I don’t like the idea of dissecting the past to try to find the thing, or things, we didn’t do so well – even if the purpose of it is to impart wisdom on others.
So if we must ask that question, what if instead of coming up with that one thing we would change if we could, we simply say – I tried.
What if we say – I gave it to God. I’m still trying. I’m still giving it to God. Some days are harder than others. I have my strengths and gifts and talents – and my weaknesses. Where I am falling short, I pray God sends reinforcements to pick up the slack.
What if the answer to what would I do differently if I could go back in time was – Nothing. Because each of those choices made me who I am today. And I know God has been with me in the good moments. And in the hard moments.
He’s with me when my house is clean. And when it’s a mess.
He’s with me when I’m playing with the kids. And when I couldn’t tell you the last time I sat down to play.
He’s with me when I lose my temper. And He’s with me when I’m snuggling.
He’s with me when I’m making time for myself. And when I’m exhausted and can’t figure out how to make time for a simple shower.
He’s with me. And with you. All the time.
What if we simply say – I’m trying. I wil always be trying. And accepting that perfection is an unattainable illusion.
I feel like if that is the answer I heard, my recovering perfectionist bent toward anxiety self would take a deep breath, say thank you – and realize maybe that question isn’t so bad after all.