Last week I entered Real Simple Magazine’s Annual Life Lessons Essay Contest. Below is the essay which I submitted.
If you could change one decision that you made in the past, what would it be?
I wouldn’t change a thing. People are the product of their experiences and I have become the person that I am today as a result of my choices and decisions. I also learned very early on in my life that actions have consequences and so I made each decision thoughtfully and with great care. For better or for worse, the decisions that I’ve made have always been my own and I’ve always held myself accountable for their outcome.
Perhaps not every decision that I made in life was a good one, but it was those choices that led me down an evolutionary path to become my journey. We all have a journey and it is a result of our experiences which mold us. These experiences shape our thoughts and outlooks and form our beliefs. Not all decisions result in positive experiences, but it is usually the tough decisions which have the greatest impact on our character. And strong character is usually chiseled by struggle and challenge.
Some of the decisions that I made in my life have even brought me a great deal of pain. Yet they are the ones that gave me the most wisdom and the greatest insight. I would hate to live through some of those decisions again, but in hindsight, I don’t regret any of them. That’s not to say that I don’t wish that certain aspects of my life were different today – but I am fully aware that my life is a consequence of my own actions.
My overarching goal is to live a life free from regret and it is this goal that prevents me from lamenting bad decisions, harboring resentment or wallowing ruefully. I believe that everything happens for a reason. And although at times, reasons may not clearly reveal themselves, I trust that whatever is meant to happen, happens exactly as it should. By this same guiding principle, I believe that there is a perennial wisdom that doesn’t require any interference from me. Subsequently, I try never to force the timing of a decision, but instead, let it unfold on its own.
Now I know that this sounds remarkable. But to achieve this level of trust and spiritual calmness took a great deal of work that was prompted by a combination of life’s circumstances and decisions that I myself made. But whether my road was forged by the hand of fate or by my own hand didn’t really matter to me. Either way, I knew that I had to face my life head-on and take the path that lay ahead.
As a child I was headstrong and stubborn and challenged the status quo –by status quo I mean any rules imposed on me by my parents. My father tried to dictate orders, but saw that his tactics were futile, so he tried influence instead; and found a result more suitable for both of us. My mother had always been supportive of my decisions, but didn’t necessarily rescue me when they went awry – although she was always there to wipe my tears and give me a hug when needed.
Both my parents died when I was at an age when life choices were becoming more and more important. After my mother’s passing I recognized that the dress rehearsal was over and that I was now living life without a safety net. It was all on me now – for real – and each decision rested on my shoulders.
However, I was fortunate because my parents raised me to have sensibility. I had a good head on my shoulders and for the most part, both feet were firmly planted. They instilled a strong sense of values and did their best to make sure I understood the importance of character.
As every child is marked by factors that profoundly impacts them during their formative years, I was most influenced by my father. Therefore, I aspired to develop a strong character because it was what I believed to be of greatest importance to him. Because I had a great deal of respect for my dad, I strived to become the kind of person that would make him proud.
To my recollection my father himself was a man of great character. He was a strong man and always stood by his convictions, no matter how challenging the position. He never wavered nor did he pander to popular opinion or convention. He was guided by his own beliefs and for that I looked up to him and always valued his opinion.
But after my mother died, my father lost his way. With the love of his life gone forever, living was no longer of interest to him. His inspiration had vanished and then his character began to fall apart. I watched him as his life unraveled and the values that he held as paramount were pushed away. Then one evening, in the middle of the night, he left. He packed up his belonging and moved to Florida – leaving behind a house with a mortgage unpaid and my childhood memories abandoned.
From that point forward, he was never the same. Every day life was difficult for him and money began to run out. I was in college at the time; struggling to make my own ends meet, while working hard to build a life for myself. One day he called and asked me for financial help. It was the final blow. He officially fell off the pedestal on which he so highly stood, in my eyes. My idol was gone.
That very moment became a turning point for me in my life. It was a point in life that many arrive to but cannot always complete the transition. It is point in life when you finally perceive yourself as an adult vis-a-vis your parents; the point when you stop constantly seeking their advice and start looking inward for guidance. For me it became the point when I no longer needed parental approval and learned to trust my gut. It was the point in which I came to realize that father doesn’t always know best, I do.
Through the years I went on make many tough and life-changing decisions; methodically weighing out options and consequences, while at the same time honing my instincts. With experience, I attained knowledge and with each decision I gained confidence in myself – particularly when my life began to take shape in a way that satisfied me. Although not everyone always agreed with my decisions, the only approval that I needed was my own and if I could change just one decision that I made in the past, I wouldn’t change a thing.