When people ask this question, they usually want to know if you’d make the same career choices, marry the person you married, go to the same colleges, live in the same places, and become involved with the same hobbies and avocations. Of course, the only way you could live your life over and make changes would be having knowledge of what happened the first time through and then not doing any of the things that turned out badly.
I regret many of the decisions I’ve made, but when it comes to those that turned out badly, I know that even though the decision hurt me and/or others at the time, if I had done something differently, many of the good things in my life since then would disappear.
So many things over the course of one’s life often happen due to small and seemingly innocuous decisions. A man drives home from work a different way and gets t-boned in an intersection and ends up in the hospital. How do you predict that? Maybe he marries his nurse and lives happily ever after. Okay, the car wreck was bad but the marriage was good. What if he’d driven home the normal way without a car wreck. Would fate/luck/God made sure he met that nurse some other way?
When asked about living one’s life over in a different way, it’s easy to say “I wouldn’t have driven to work drunk and run over all those people” or “I would have told my friends I wouldn’t help them rob the bank which ended up with me in jail for twenty years.” Those things seem so obvious, it’s easy to see why somebody would leap at the chance to do things differently.
But how would you know which tiny choices would end up having wonderful or horrible consequences? That is, when a person goes out to eat at Restaurant A rather than Restaurant B, s/he doesn’t really see that choice as a defining moment. usually, it isn’t. But it could be.
When it comes down to it, I always say I’d live my life the same way that I have because it’s the devil I know. It might not have been all Champagne and roses and millions of dollars in the bank, but those things don’t guarantee happiness or that some cruel catcher in the rye might jump out of the shadows if I were to change the smallest thing.
The question of would you or wouldn’t you becomes more tangled than quantum theory with so many variables and connections, I don’t think our brains could handle living our lives over to make them come out better.
The big, bad decisions are easy to focus on and think about changing. But I believe our character and our chosen destiny for this life come out thousands of “smaller” decisions that don’t seem world-changing when we make them.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat”