Monday, October 25, 2010

The If

I saw an insurance company commercial the other day with a slogan something like ‘we protect you from the if in life’. The visual showed the word IF in the middle of the word life. Clever. And somewhat thought-provoking.

One thought it provoked in my head was how much some of us are influenced by the question ‘what if?’ What if it rains? What if nobody comes to the party? What if I make the wrong decision about my 401k? What if I buy a house and then lose my job? What if I take this job and it doesn’t work out? What if she says no? What if I say I "love you" and we break up?

Do these ‘what if’ scenarios paralyze you? Does this self-guessing lead to inaction? Do you deny yourself opportunities in various aspects of your life because things might change?

In my career I moved halfway across the country three different times for job opportunities. I was ultimately fired from two of those jobs. If I had let negative answers to my ‘what ifs’ guide me, as I was often inclined to do in my youth, I would never have had all the good things that resulted from those jobs and the experiences that came from living in those new places. I also learned plenty about how to keep a job.

I am lucky to have been in love several times. Every one of those relationships eventually ended but if I had let the ‘what ifs’ stop me I would have missed out on some of the best emotional experiences of my life (some other experiences too). I also learned a lot about women and about my own attitude toward relationships. I still don’t understand women but I know much more than if I had let ‘what if’ stop me.

The commercial that led to these observations about the if word was designed to scare the viewer into protecting himself from some of life’s uncertainties. But it also provoked some positive possibilities for ‘what if’.

What if you had the party and everyone you invited showed up and retold the story of what a great party is was for years? What if you bought the house of your dreams, raised your family in it and eventually retired there? What if you gave up a lucrative job to pursue the career you really believed was right for you and it worked out? What if you said yes to a job offer and worked there for the next twenty years, eventually becoming the company vice president? What if you let yourself fall in deeply in love with your soul mate and eventually celebrated thirty years together?

What if you gave up on your dreams because the struggle to reach them was difficult? What if you told yourself the dream is worth it regardless of the obstacles?

What if you believed in yourself no matter how much others around you tried to squash your dreams and you ultimately got everything you wanted in life?

When you look at it that way, the if can be a good thing.

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