Several weeks ago, I watched a docu-series that, among many things, followed the process of a group of individuals dealing with the aftermath of a set of previously made decisions. I found it interesting to see how the participants’ evaluation of the event differed depending on the lens they viewed the situation through. When reviewing the decision through the lens of immediate situational context most of the participants were not remorseful of the decision. However, when forced to view it through the larger context of the downstream effect of the decision on both themselves as individuals as well as the collective team they served on, most were disappointed. It is as if they recognized after the fact that the individual decision that each of them made had a much larger impact than they expected. Furthermore, they were forced to watch other people deal with the fallout of a decision they had no influence in making.
As I watched, I began to think of some of the choices I’ve made in my life. Given the fact that I now know a portion of the outcome of previously made decisions, it would be fair to say that some of those decisions were pretty good while others were extremely poor. When thinking about the good decisions there are several emotions that I find common to those experiences: joy, excitement, accomplishment, enjoyment, personal growth, and satisfaction. Conversely, the poor decisions bring forth thoughts of regret, sadness, anguish and personal dissatisfaction. In all cases, I either enhanced or stifled my own growth process. Furthermore, while I’m unable to prove it I believe that some of those decisions also did good or harm to someone else. I say that not because I think highly of myself but because I believe that private decisions often have public impacts. Even something as simple as making the private decision to write and publish this blog post will certainly have an impact on me and may have some sort of impact (positive or otherwise) on a reader of it. As I continued to think on all of this I eventually landed on that all too familiar question I ask myself from time to time; “If I could go back in time and make different decisions, would I?”
My gut reaction to this question is typically a very quick, “Yes, I surely would.” However, when I slow myself down to allow time to process the question and the potential impact of that quick yes, I realize that I am answering that question against a point in time vs. answering it against the holistic canvas of my life. There are innumerable points in time where I wish I had made a different decision. I probably didn’t need to go to that happy hour vs. going to the chemistry study group. I surely wish that I would have studied harder for my Engineering Operations exam and prepared more diligently for that project presentation. I should have paid attention when my mother was trying to give me productive feedback and conversely not listened to the one boss who was attempting to tear me down. Oh, and I DEFINITELY should have kept my mouth shut during that heated exchange with my wife (I’m sure I’m not the only one on the planet who can attest to that). Changing those activities is all well and good, but those are all point in time decisions. When processing the question through the total canvas of life those decision points exemplify the Binary Myth and prove that the answer isn’t as binary and isolated as it seems to be. In short, it was not as easy of a question to answer as I initially processed it.
Our lives are a proverbial quilt that we weave and stitch together over time. One panel is carefully crafted, tailored and placed in the quilt based on the experiences that we have during our lives. These panels of experience are stitched together by both the decisions we make and the ramifications of those decisions, which ultimately leads to the creation of a new panel. If we don’t like something on the previous panel we can make decisions to change the outcome of the next panel. Similarly, if we have an idea of what we want the next panel to look like then we can make purposeful decisions to bring the picture we see in our mind’s eye to fruition.
It started to become clear to me that in order to adequately evaluate the answer to the original question it was imperative to look at the entire quilt. Over time we become quite accustomed to the quilt and the stories laid out therein. While it may sound good to change a particular point in time decision, if we dare to pull on a specific thread of the quilt that’s been built then not only could things start to unravel but the pictures on each pane could change in some drastic ways. This is why making the quick yes answer to the above question is not as binary as it seems as it literally could be life-altering.
To illustrate my point, let’s use my decision to transfer universities after my sophomore year. When I made that choice I in effect totally altered the landscape of my inner circle. Friendships that I thought I would have for life didn’t last 2 years after the decision. On the other hand friendships I couldn’t even imagine having are now lifelong friendships and in some cases led to new family members. While I have no regrets on my decision, I do think about it from time to time and ponder how much different, not better or worse, my quilt would be had I made a different decision.
After watching the docu-series and thinking on all of this I’m still left with attempting to answer the question “if I could go back in time and make different and better decisions, would I?” I don’t have an answer. My quilt is far from perfect as there certainly are plenty of imperfections. That being said my quilt has become a tangible example of my belief that while all things may not be good, all things work together for the good. The good things in the quilt are sources of joy I can be proud of. The bad things in the quilt are sources of education for both myself and others. Changing either could totally alter the layout of everything I hold so dear: faith, family, relationships, experiences, dreams, and desires.
Until I have an answer I’ll keep plugging away with the hope that one day I’ll look back and say “Ahh, the perfect quilt.”
A few weeks ago the African World Festival was in full swing at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. As we were walking through the museum one of the exhibits in the main atrium was a quilt exhibit with multiple quilts from around the world. Ironically I had just started to pen this post earlier in the day but I had no working title UNTIL I saw these quilts. Sometimes the name of a post stares you in the face, literally. Here are two other photos of quilts from that exhibit.