At every staff meeting in my office, we do an icebreaker activity. This month, we played Would You Rather. As the game progressed, I noticed that I fell into the minority of opinions. I was one of only a few people who would rather live on the beach than in a penthouse. I was one of the few who would prefer to have the urge to sneeze the rest of my life than to have the hiccups for eternity. (Hey, hiccups can be dangerous.) I wasn’t surprised that I held unusual opinions. If you’ve read my other work, you know I generally do.
What shocked me was when, upon the question, “Would you rather know the future or re-do the past?” I was one of only two people who chose the latter, out of a group of several dozen people. Just me and the intern.
“You guys must have some dark secrets,” joked one of my coworkers.
“No, I’ve just made a lot of mistakes I’d like to re-do,” I responded, a little more honestly than I meant to. Cue a round of “aww’s.”
I realize my decision wasn’t the most practical. If I knew the future, I could play the stock market. But with what money? Money I would have had, had I just decided to invest at a younger age. If I knew the future, I would know what not to worry about. But what about the stuff I would dread? Yes, I would know if it all turned out all right or if I was horribly murdered by someone offended by my feminist articles. Like in Big Fish, if I knew when and how I died, I could live the rest of my life as a daredevil. But I’m an aerialist. I already risk death.
When I made my decision, it didn’t seem prudent to know the future. It seemed more important to fix my past mistakes: never going out with my ex-abuser, for example. Leaving toxic jobs and friends earlier. Pursuing things that I was too scared to pursue. If I imagine a world in which I made better choices, I can imagine a present in which life is better for me.
And yet I grew weary of counting the decisions that I would re-do. And I realized that I’d have to change a lot of things on the minuscule chance that my present situation would be better. In fact, I was disrespecting the good parts of my life by dreaming of an alternate reality.
Really, none of us in the game made a good decision. To know the future would do little good because you could easily sabotage it with your daily choices. If your future is bad, you’d be unable to escape the despair as you remained trapped in time, unable to stop progressing toward a horrible end. You might even opt to get out while you still can. Even if your future is good, you’d be living for the future and ignore the present, looking only to what’s coming rather than the happy things in your daily life.
But to re-do the past would have no guarantee of a better present. You might end up in the same place. Or, ironically, your effort to change it could result in a worse situation. Did we learn nothing from time travel movies?
Had I not experienced abuse, I likely wouldn’t have become an advocate, researcher, and writer specializing in the science of violence. I’ve helped people because I can speak from a place of experience.
Had I not stayed in bad jobs, I likely wouldn’t have learned important skills such as patience and self-reliance.
Had I not had toxic friends, I wouldn’t know how to identify good ones.
The key is to live right where you are. Dream of the future and acknowledge the past.
Would you rather feel content with your life, even with your mistakes, or live a dream, torn between playing with your past or worrying about your future?
I think the answer is clear.
Rachel Wayne is a writer and artist based in Orlando, FL. She earned her master’s in visual anthropology from the University of Florida and runs the production company DreamQuilt. She is an avid aerial dancer and performance artist, and also dabbles in mixed-media. She writes nonfiction stories about herself and other awesome people, as well as essays on feminism, societal violence, mental health, politics, entrepreneurship, and whatever cultural topic strikes her fancy.