“You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.” (On the Waterfront, circa 1954) Sorry for using an old movie reference, but how many times have you engaged in the shoulda…woulda…coulda mentality? I cannot think of a mental state more pointless or more damaging than focusing on what you should have done, would have done or could have done, when you already done did it! (bad grammar used for emphasis…) The laws of life being what they are, none of us can go back in time and change one iota of what happened even five minutes ago, no matter how much we wish we could. Oh I feel you – I also wish I coulda, but I can’t. So why even bother to do that to ourselves?
Let’s start by understanding what you “shoulda” done. First, you cannot judge your ‘past’ decisions in light of your ‘present’ understanding. Let me say that again, you cannot judge your ‘past’ decisions in light of your ‘present’ understanding. All of us make decisions about various things and we make those decisions based on our understanding in that present moment. For example, you get into a bad habit of going out to the club and having drinks and then driving home. You know it’s not a good idea really, but you feel you aren’t totally impaired and can handle it. After all, nothing happened the last four times you did it. Then, with some wrong thinking conditioning in place, you try it again expecting the same result and woooooooo, wooooooo, woooooo you get pulled over. You fail the breathalyzer and get a DUI! Ouch, license suspended, large fine, can’t get to work, court dates etc., etc. You made a bad decision based on your thinking at the time. Maybe you “shoulda” known better, but we will get to the ‘shoulda’ later. The reality is that you made a bad decision and got burned for it. It happened! Now, I am guessing that you give some serious thought to taking that chance again (at least I hope…) In other words, you might not make that choice today knowing what you know now. But the choice you made back then…you already made. Now, here’s where the self-abuse really kicks in. You spend the next six months or however long you remain license-less, kicking yourself for being so stupid, so ignorant, so reckless! Why? Can you hear me? Why? You already made the mistake and in this case, already paid the price. Lamenting, kicking yourself, beating yourself, berating yourself, does absolutely nothing to remedy the situation and does not in any way make you a better person. You weren’t a bad person to begin with! You made a bad choice, suffered some pain and learned a tough lesson. End of story. The rest of the self-flagellation is not the voice of God, my friends, it is you condemning yourself for an event you cannot undo. The voice of God would tell you to let it go because Jesus Christ paid the price for every foolish, silly, lamentable, wrong, grievous, wacky, crazy, perverted, heinous thing you or I ever did! Did you get that? Every wrong thing! So, in God’s sight what’s important is not what we ‘shoulda’ done, but rather what we do right now. God won’t turn back the hands of time (though He did do that once in the Bible, in a different context) no matter how much we beg. (trust me…been there, done that!) So, spare yourself some lost time and just let it go. Learn what you can learn and move on.
Woulda is a similar animal to his brother shoulda. How many times have you thought about what you would have done? How about how very different things would have been if only you would have gone to school, would have paid more attention to him/her, would have earned more money, would have worked harder, studied more, gave more effort…if only, if only and more if only. Okay, you know what I’m going to say, right? You know today what you know today because of what you learned yesterday and the day before and the day before…ad infinitum (without end). You cannot possibly put your wiser today brain in your less wise yesterday brain. Just like you “can’t put an old head on a young body.” Please forgive the cliché. I used to lament the fact that I should have taken to writing when I was 25 instead of the present age (sssh), but you know what? I did not have the capacity to organize even one thought when I was 25 let alone many thoughts. So, you know what you know, when you know it, not a day before and not a day after. Capiche? You arrive when you get there, not when you are almost there or after you are already there. You did what you wanted to do at the time because it made sense at the time. Sure, now you would have done it differently, but alas now was not then. Be a little kinder to yourself and stop doing that. If what you would have done is still that important, do it now! If you can’t do it now (I mean really can’t…i.e. play professional baseball) choose another passion and do that now! Really!
Okay so if you aren’t totally lost in clichés, fragmented words and similar word sentences by now, let’s get to the last but certainly not least beast, “the couldas.” Of the three, the ‘could have beens’ are the worst. They are the worst because they represent regrets. How sad regrets are, you know? Sad, but unprofitable in every way. Logically, what can I do about something that could have been, but wasn’t? There is no end to what could have been, is there? In the end, what I wanted to do – I did. What you wanted to do – you did. It may have been a poor choice; an uninformed choice, a deceived choice, an immature choice, a selfish choice or a silly choice, but in the end we chose it and it is what it is. Regret is poison to your soul; a poison that corrupts the beauty of today. If you regret not telling your children more how much you loved them, tell them more now. If you regret not telling your mom how much you loved her when she was alive, trust me, if you love her that much now, then you loved her that much then, and she knew that even if you didn’t say it as much as you wished. If you regret that you never went to college, go to college now. Do you get it? Don’t poison yourself with thoughts of what could have been, instead embrace today; embrace your life right now and do the thing now! Now is all we have my friends, right now. Life just doesn’t last long enough for regrets…
Replace all of those pointless “shoulda…woulda…couldas” with the life you are blessed to live today. Live today as if it is your last and be everything you ever wanted to be right now. The world needs your goodness today. The world needs your love today. The world needs your achievements today. Be kind to yourself, love yourself and don’t spend a moment in the past. In the end, that’s the only thing that you ‘shoulda’ ‘woulda’ and ‘coulda’ done!