Playing the ‘What if’ Game

By Lorraine Iverson

Do you ever wonder ‘what if’? I think we all do from time to time. Watching my grandson go off to college and my stepson leave to spend his senior year studying in Paris got me to thinking. What if I’d finished college? What if I had studied abroad? Would my life gone in another direction? Of course it would have. But what would I have missed in the wonderful life that I’ve been living? What if I’d had developed a relationship with that rich old guy I had a date with 40 years ago instead of moving to the north woods to manage an inn and be a hippy?  It’s fun to speculate on these ‘could have beens’.  But would I really change anything? Maybe. Maybe not.

My life has been a successful one. But I’ve always regretted that I never finished college. I quit to get married very young. Yikes! If one of my kids had tried to get married at that age I would have had them in lockdown. But it wasn’t that unusual at that time. Besides I wanted to get out from under my parent’s rule. Marriage seemed my only option. They wouldn’t pay for me to go away to college. You couldn’t “live in sin”. Besides I was in love. So I became a grown up much earlier than any of my kids did. I gave birth to my first son when I was 21. And we both survived. He is a wonderful man who did finish college, has a good career, married at a reasonable age to a great woman and is raising a family. They have created a successful life. But I bet they have ‘what ifs’ too. 

Recently we, as a country, all took a moment to grieve again for the victims of 9/11. I read about a number of people that were supposed to be in the towers that day but were not because they missed their train or had a sick kid or got fired the day before. Ah, the luck of those ‘what ifs’. 

I know many people cannot even dabble in the ‘what if’ game. It’s just too painful. What if I didn’t have that extra drink before driving home. What if I hadn’t run that red light. What if I had said ‘I love you’ that last time before I never saw you again.  What if I had resisted temptation? It can be a very depressing exercise of reviewing the past and, in some, create a feeling of victimhood or deep regret.

I try to stay focused on the here and now. The past is history and cannot be changed. The future we have no control over and tend to worry about things that may never happen. So many of us spend so much time in looking back or forward that we miss the current moments we are living in. My best recipe for staying in the moment is hanging out with my grandchildren because that’s where they live. As they age they may begin to try and control their environment, become worriers and, voila, hello stress. 

The ‘what if’ game can be fun for kids. As we walk to the park I ask what if we go this way instead of the usual way. I often get very elaborate answers about dinosaurs, monsters or something else that will greet us if we go a different way. As grown-ups I think it’s good to ‘what if’ yourself occasionally just to shake things up and try something new. “What if we take the coast road instead of the freeway.” “What if we walk instead of drive or take the trolley.” “What if we make holiday gifts this year instead of shopping.” 

And it’s never too late to ‘what if’ yourself into a whole a new life. What if I go back college? What if we move to Oregon? What if we quit our jobs and start a non-profit to save the planet? 

I think ‘what ifs’ can be exciting, bring back warm remembrances or depress the heck out of you. But, really, the ‘what ifs’ are irrelevant because it all works out exactly the way it’s supposed and you got what you needed to get out every experience. So, what if we just relax and enjoy the journey.

Lorraine Iverson

Rain Iverson has traveled many paths and is always recreating herself. As a business woman, she co-founded and managed a technology public relations firm and one of the first computer conferencing software companies. She has served on non-profit boards, retired at 50 to become an artist and then 10 years later came out of retirement to become CFO of her son's company. Rain is the matriarch of a large, blended family with a great husband, children, grandchildren and lots of extended/blended family members.