Surrendering Your Alternate Lives

Apr 12, 2016


Somewhere, in my imagination, there is a version of me who is a doctor.  


Her life split away from my current reality after a long five years of study and a transcript full of A’s, countless hours of volunteer work, world travel, my reign as founder and president of my university premedical students’ society, and a fated MCAT score: one point below the cut-off for admission to med school.  Some days, I wonder:  Is she happy?  Is she Making A Difference?  Is she married, does she have kids?  Is she the best at what she does?

I’ll never know.  


“our lives are in the space between…we are doomed to choose and every choice may entail an irreparable loss; and where every choice produces a quantum explosion of alternate futures.” – Gretchen Rubin

I’m not sure if I actively made the choice to pursue another life, or if my life just chose me, but I did not become a doctor.  I spent several years feely deeply inadequate and out-of-place in my (accidentally) chosen career path before I confronted the grief head-on.

I said to myself “Wake up.  Smarten up.  If you want to go to medical school so badly, then effing go.


It wasn’t until I said that, out loud, that a tiny little voice in the back of my head said,

“But I don’t want to.”


I was still left with those feelings of inadequacy, though.  Those remnants not of an unrequited dream, but simply one I grew out of, or one that was never mine to begin with.  

So I grieved.  I spent some quality time wallowing in the fact that I was not a doctor.  And then one day, as I wrote in my journal, I found myself writing down all the things I wasn’t.  I also didn’t become a neuroscientist despite having a degree in the field; I didn’t become a massage therapist or a naturopathic doctor or a midwife, though I had thought about all three on occasion.  My list continued on for several pages before I realized that I could go on forever.

So I stopped.


I stopped writing.  I stopped grieving.

I made a list of all the (fairly bizarre) things I was:  Public health professional.  Doula.  Scuba instructor.

I took some time to honour the time and money and effort it took me to become these things.  I took some time to honour the skill, intelligence and dedication involved in doing the work I ended up doing.  I engaged in some big thinking about what cool things I could do with the skills I had; how I could begin to move forward with who I had become rather than continually looking back at who I wasn’t.

“we become compulsive comparers – always measuring our lives against some other person’s life, secretly wondering if we should have taken her path instead…all these choices and all this longing can create a kind of haunting in our lives – as though the ghosts of all our other, unchosen possibilities linger forever in a shadow world around us” – Elizabeth Gilbert

It was that day, writing in my journal, that I began the process of surrendering my alternate lives, of letting go of the ghosts of unpursued opportunities.  I needed to grieve this loss before I could move on to live the life that was waiting for me.


Your turn:


Perhaps you have a life waiting for you, too?


 Are you stopping yourself from grabbing that life by the reins and making the most of it, because you’re too caught up wishing it was a different one?


Can you relate to the idea of letting go of the life you had planned?