The Crisis of What Might Have Been

Have I done all that I could have done?

That question haunts lives. That question leads to rash decisions to change everything. That question is the root of the life crisis, whenever it may happen. It is in resolving that question that we either find peace or our undoing.

Popular culture has given us a strange view of success, seeing it as an end in and of itself. The “happily every after” formulaic ending dismisses all future storms and trials and gives the erroneous impression that should one perform similar feats in one’s life, the same formulaic, dismissive ending awaits.

History, however, shows that there are no endings in a life, other than the actual ending of life. No amount of prior success can cause one to gloss candidly over a current struggle. Ronald Reagan attained fame as an actor and became a president beloved and revered by many – yet, he faced a battle with Alzheimer’s as his life drew to a close. A harsh, cold winter to close out a life that knew a brilliant summer and fall. Abraham Lincoln never gave up in his political struggles and became elected president – twice – and then his life ended in an agonizing day of pain following a fatal gunshot wound. Helen Keller learned how to communicate, a triumph for sure, but her struggle for workers’ rights goes largely ignored.

Success is all in how one chooses to measure success. There are the false standards of the world that only measure to a point and then ignore subsequent pains. Then there are standards we can choose in our own hearts. I prefer the latter.

So what standards do I select? Moral ones. If I can live my life and keep my soul intact, if I can shine it up after it’s taken some damages, if I can get clean and sober and stay clean and sober, then I am succeeding. If I can help other people, if I can be kind, if I can be a good person where I am, then I am a success.

What might have been different in my life? Lots of things. Would I be more successful by worldly standards with different choices? Certainly. Would I have been more successful by my own moral standards? No, and quite possibly I would have had need to jettison those moral standards in order to rationalize what I might have done to attain worldly success.

Successful lives, according to worldly standards, are typically a result of blind luck or criminal intent. Success from my standard can be found in finding joy in small moments and in being kind to people who won’t do anything for me in return. With the wrong view of life, it is possible to be completely bored with a fireworks show at the Eiffel Tower and with the right view, to be completely satisfied with watching an ant make his rounds.

I’ve seen no-talents fall blindly into success and geniuses forced to keep their day jobs. I’ve seen criminals praised for their business acumen and truly talented individuals completely ignored as they quietly heal lives. Asking what might have been indicates a yearning for the world and its fickle treasures. Being at peace with decisions made, even if those decisions could have been better, is the key to being at peace with one’s life, which I consider to be success.

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Changes are still possible in any life. But choose those changes carefully. Peace and happiness are more important than money and power. True success is intrinsic and the crisis of what might have been is resolved successfully in finding the peace of the just and charitable soul.

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