When I was a kid, I used to read a book series called “Choose Your Own Adventure”. I loved the books because the stories were formatted so that the reader would be faced with two or three options, each of which leads to more options, and then to one of many endings. Making the right choices led you to the best ending, while making the wrong ones led you to one of a myriad of horrible and agonizing deaths (pretty gruesome for a 10 year old now that I really think about it).
The concept of these books flooded from memory into consciousness while having a conversation with friends about the choices we’d made in life (many of which resulted in failures) and how those experiences were what brought us to that very moment in time. We wondered where we would be and who we would be with if we’d opted for another path.
Everyone pondered for a few moments and I went on a vacation in my mind back to my childhood where I hid under my covers and read with a flashlight well past my bedtime. In the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, the one and only rule was that you couldn’t randomly flip through the pages. Being a rule follower, I would go back to the beginning and make a different choice when prompted and it would alter the outcome of the plot. I would continue reading and re-reading until I was satisfied with the ending.
What if life were actually like that and we could go back and make a different choice that would alter our existence? As a police officer, I have watched people err time and time again. One bad choice can put a once promising future on a different trajectory. I think of those who committed crimes without having a deep understanding of the consequences and wonder what would happen if they could alter the outcome of their lives.
In cases of addiction and substance abuse, might one want to turn back to the moment in time they took the first hit of the poison that now imprisons them? Life is usually understood in retrospect so when we connect the dots of our lives backwards, we see so clearly where we went wrong. Unfortunately, reality doesn’t allow us to go backwards and make a different decision. What is done is already etched in permanence. We are victims of our circumstances and much of that is a result of the decisions we’ve made.
So we are doomed by our bad decisions and there is no happy ending and we all die. The end.
The more I pondered, I realized that life is more like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book than I thought and we actually can alter the trajectory of our lives even after a wrong turn. While I have seen lives devastated, I have also seen lives completely turned around. I have had the pleasure of seeing rehabilitated felons and reformed addicts change their future by deciding to do so. It’s never easy (in fact it’s really difficult) but nothing worth doing is ever easy.
The people who settle with an unhappy ending are those who practice learned helplessness. This is when a person decides to be a victim of their choices and circumstances thus figuratively paralyzing them from change. Fortunately, you can unlearn what you have learned by changing your mindset.
I don’t care how bad your bad decision was that landed you where you are; you still have the power to create a new outcome. Obviously you cannot go back to the the beginning and undo what happened, but you can most certainly turn the page and start a new chapter.
So if you don’t like the story you’re in, write a new one.