We can draw parallels between the mundane and the profound. Or, if you prefer, the micro and macro, which works for me because I tend to look at life in terms of scale. This is one such example.
On my commute from work, I drive on a three-lane, northbound highway. Last night I was driving in the middle lane when I felt a subtle inclination to move to the left lane. I saw the opportunity to change lanes and thought, “Nah, what difference would that make?” As the car to my left-rear not only closed the gap, but advanced forward several car lengths, I thought, “Dang. I should have trusted my instinct.”
For the next several minutes, I watched for another opportunity to move to the fast lane as the car that was in “my spot” got farther and farther ahead. “I should have been there,” I thought. “That’s where I should be right now.”
There’s that word again: should.
That’s a really difficult feeling to identify. It’s almost like regret or disbelief, but with a tinge of anxiety. Like you want to take the moment back. Do a quick little rewind and take advantage of the opportunity. It’s like trying to grasp water or sand or air. That moment when you need to make a choice, and the only decision you make is that of indecision. By default, the inaction becomes the action.
I reminded myself that I can’t have that moment back. I’ll just have to live with being stuck in the slow lane, now a quarter mile or so behind where I could have been. “Could have been.” That’s slightly more palatable. I could have been there, but right now I am here.
Would I get frustrated, park my car in the middle of the freeway and walk away? Absolutely not. That would be ridiculous. The only option is to keep driving forward. I could be frustrated, blame others for my position on the road and be a miserable cuss, or I could keep driving forward. As long as I was moving, I would reach my destination. I may arrive a few minutes later than what was possible, but that’s OK.
Keep driving forward.
Another opportunity to move left presented itself. I took it, and I was moving along smoothly. I eventually caught up with that car that was in “my spot,” but it gave me no satisfaction. By then I had shifted my focus to the steady movement forward rather than frantically trying to catch up to where I could have been.
It’s easy to feel like we’ve missed opportunities in life, like things could be different if we had only trusted our instincts and made that move when we had the chance. That way of thinking can be overwhelming and self-defeating. It can make you want to stop in your tracks and walk away. It’s important to remember that the destination hasn’t changed; it isn’t gone. It may take slightly longer to arrive with every missed opportunity, but you will arrive if you keep your goal in mind. And those opportunities come up more than you think. Just watch for it to come around again, then don’t miss it.
Keep driving forward.