Have you ever asked yourself-or anyone else: If you could live your life all over again, what different choices would you make?
Most people-myself included-would answer this question with a slew of situations, big and little that we would handle differently a second, more mature time around. From possibly exchanging the individual they married (ouch!), to choosing a different career path (I always wanted to be an astronaut), from the city or country where they live (Honolulu has fantastic, sunny beaches), the list of things that people would do differently are many.
Once, I heard a wise person respond to this question with a slant that caught me totally off guard. “What changes would I make? None. I wouldn’t do anything differently.”
Huh? Was he in denial over all his past mistakes? Or was he one of those previously-thought-to-be-non-existent individuals who lead that elusive “perfect” life? Or was he simply too arrogant to learn from his own setbacks to make better choices?
Or, perhaps he was truly wiser than most of us. Perhaps he came to a realization that “From G-d, a man’s steps are established” (Psalms 37:23). His destiny was predetermined, his footsteps guided from Above. All those choices he took credit – or discredit – for, were part of G-d’s master-plan.
Every decision that “he” made presented him with just the opportunity that he needed. There were no “good” or “bad” choices for him. Ultimately even those situations that were challenging were exactly what he needed in his personal destiny, for his ultimate good.
Ever consider that? Imagine how liberating such a perspective would be.
But, you ask, what about those decisions you made that really were dreadful. Like the time that you finally stood up to your overbearing Aunt Beatrice and told her precisely what you thought of her advice, only to immediately regret saying what you did, but still causing her not to speak to you for the last two decades since then or the time with your boss, er, former boss-well, you get the picture Or how about regrettable decisions you made in prioritizing your time, not spending enough of it with family and friends?
Unlike your job, your spouse, or your city of residence, ethical choices are yours alone. You can’t chalk up those horrid choices to “destiny”-because your loss of composure and resulting behavior was a result of your personal free choice. These are choices that the Torah tells us that we must sincerely regret-that is what teshuvah (repentance) is all about!
But here the mystics introduce us to an interesting dichotomy: After we have made those less-than-perfect choices, there is an opportunity for us to exploit these decisions, and even their consequences, for our own benefit. In hindsight – and in hindsight only… – we accept that this is exactly what we needed, at that moment, for our individual spiritual progress. We may have chosen the regrettable path that got us into the bind, but the fact that we now are in a bind, which is ultimately part of His plan-we are intended to use this opportunities for our essential spiritual growth. When properly utilized, these setbacks, and the lessons we take from them, can propel us to incredible heights.
So think about your answer to this question. If you could live your life all over again, how would YOU do it?
But you don’t get to live life again.
So maybe the better question is: If you are living YOUR life today, complete with all the decisions that YOU made, how are you using EVERY one of those decision as an impetus for self-improvement?