If I had to use one word to describe how I feel right now, and how I’ve felt for a little while now, that word would be conflicted.
I’m 27 now, and decisions need to be made. Not just “what am I wearing today?” or “what am I eating tonight?”, but real, substantial decisions that will all have a major impact on my life, whether that’s for the next few months, the next few years, or even 5-10 years from now.
It seems no matter how old you are, there will always be someone to give you advice. Life advice, in particular. The kinds of things adults tell you when you’re young, but you don’t listen because, well, you’re young. When you’re young, people tell you to study hard. Get a good job. Earn real money. Buy a house. Settle down. Grow up1. And all before you’re ready for any of it, or really understand what it all means.
Now that I’m a little older, I get a slightly different set of advice. People tell me to spend my money on experiences, not things. They say everyone’s a little weird; nobody’s perfect. Everyone has flaws, but that doesn’t matter because everyone is capable of greatness anyway. People say it’s better to love and have lost than to have never loved at all. They tell you to aim high, shoot for the stars, chase your dreams, dance like no one’s watching, forge your own path, live your best life, love freely, and remember that anything is possible. Maybe not all in the same breath, but it’s all been said before. None of this is particularly new.
And now that I am a little older, there’s one piece of advice that I hear more often than any other: life’s too short.
I have a problem with “life’s too short”. Several problems, in fact, chief of which is it serves as a cop-out for the real problem: time is a cruel mistress. Youth is wasted on the young, and the advantages of being older don’t necessarily outweigh the negatives. Unless you’re born with a silver spoon in your mouth, you’ll have to work like the rest of us, and unless you get lucky, a lot of the time, your dreams will remain just that2.
It’s enough to make anyone depressed.
“Life’s too short” makes me angry, too. Life’s too short… to what? To catch public transport? To wash your dishes by hand? To spend your days at a unfulfilling desk job, eating the same thing you had for lunch yesterday, doing the same thing you were doing a week, a month, a year ago? Perhaps, even, life’s too short to study hard. Life’s too short to get a good job. Life’s too short to earn real money, buy a house, or settle down.
Or on a more personal note, maybe life’s too short not to travel the world. Too short to have to reconcile giving up what you enjoy doing for the faint promise of career progression. Too short to not go to The International every year, or not get to one esports event in a different country. Too short to not spend time with family and friends. Too short to not talk to that pretty girl you like. Suddenly, you’re not sure what you should be doing any more, and all because life’s too short.
Congratulations, you’re now as conflicted as I am.
You know what? If a genie turned up right now and told me I could have anything I wanted, I’d tell him he could keep his perfect decision making, which we’ve touched on before. I want to see the future. That’s essentially what perfect decision making would be, anyway — how are you supposed to make the wrong decision if you already know the outcome, every single time? On the other hand, maybe knowing how it all ends would take all the fun out of it, and so I maybe I’m going to end up sticking with perfect decision making — or some other trait that would make me great at Dota 2 — anyway.
Like I said, conflicted.
And so, it’s not some kind of decision paralysis I have, like the agony and ecstasy of personal transport describes. For the most part, I have no problems making superficial decisions. It’s the personal ones I have issues with, and all because a) it’s impossible to make the right decision when you’re not sure what the right decision is, and b) making choices leads to regret. Maybe not always regretting what happened as a result of your decision, but wondering what could have happened, had you chosen differently.
The problem, as I see it, is that the uncertainty of everything is awful. Knowing that you can make all the right decisions — or at least, the best decisions possible with all the available information at the time, which is as close to perfect decision making as we’re going to get — and still end up like what you were trying to avoid is almost enough to make you not want to try at all. It’s not about having a plan B, it’s about knowing that you can try, and do, everything within your power to not end up like all the other divorced couples, only to end up dividing your assets straight down the middle and having to start from square one, which might just be enough to put you off relationships. Maybe forever.
The other problem with all of this is that regret feels awful. Now that I’m a little older3, I’ve got a few regrets. Things I should have done that I didn’t, or things that I did that I shouldn’t have. It’s hard for me to believe in the “no regrets” ideology, because while saying that you have no regrets is easy, actually believing it is another thing entirely4. And now matter how hard I try, I just can’t bring myself to think that no one has their own demons that keep them up at night, and that I’m somehow unique in this regard. That would be insane.
So how do I deal with all of this? Do I tell myself that the choices I make — good or bad, for better or worse, whatever the outcome — are just a perfectly normal part of life that I have to accept? That seems a little YOLO. While that’s true, consequences are a thing in the real world. Making the wrong kinds of choices now could prevent you from making any choices later, which is much worse than making wrong choices in the first place.
As for regrets, I think I have to accept that at the time, I had reason enough to make the choice that I did. Maybe less so in the heat of the moment, but for the most part, I like to think I made the call based on my individual circumstances in that specific situation. And if I regret it now, then maybe that’s age and wisdom for you. With any luck, I’ll have the wisdom to make a better choice next time.
It’ll be tough, but I have to remind myself that life isn’t like an RPG where I can just load an earlier save and try again, or take a different path. There are no do-overs. No guides, no walkthroughs, no cheat codes. I can’t just save-scum my way to the best possible outcome, because life doesn’t work like that.
It’s 2018. I feel conflicted, both about the personal decisions I need to make, and the regret I might feel afterwards.
But maybe that’s OK, and just life’s way of reminding me that I’m alive.
After all, life’s too short for regrets.
- There is a very good possibility I’ve been watching too many esports events sponsored by Mercedes. ↩
- I loathe the idea of “settling”. Like, I have to settle for second best because I couldn’t meet some criteria? I studied hard, and still couldn’t get into the Uni course I wanted to? I worked hard, and still didn’t get that promotion? The idea of settling has never sat well with me, and this will become clear later in this piece. ↩
- I didn’t realise this at the time, but when you’re young, it’s surprising what you can get away with. Going through school, you’re mostly insulated from the real world. There are very few consequences for your actions that have any lasting effect, and very few people you’re held accountable to. What could be written off as teenage impulsiveness in high school becomes something much uglier, when you’re older. ↩
- Regret also has ties to “what if”. Sometimes, it’s not about feeling like I made the outright wrong decision, but wondering what could have happened had I chosen differently. Playing the “what if?” game is dangerous. ↩