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?

The Becoming Podcast has been on a short hiatus while I focus on writing my book, but oh what a comeback episode I have for you!

This month, I spoke to Toko-pa Turner, who many of you may know as the unofficial patron saint of many of my circles and gatherings because of the sheer number of times I’ve quoted from the wisdom of her book, Belonging.

Toko-pa is a Canadian author, teacher, and dreamworker. Blending the mystical teachings of Sufism in which she was raised with a Jungian approach to dreams, she founded The Dream School in 2001, from which thousands of students have graduated. She is the author of the award-winning book, Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home, which explores the themes of exile and belonging through the lens of dreams, mythology, and nature. This book has resonated for readers worldwide, and has been translated into 10 different languages so far. Her work focuses on the relationship between psyche and nature, and how to follow our inner wisdom to meet with the social, psychological, and ecological challenges of our time.

Here’s some of what Toko-pa and I talk about in this episode:

> The dream that changed Toko-pa’s life, causing her to question her career and, ultimately, her identity

> How we can court our dreams to support us during times of radical transformation – and the reasons so many of us have a hard time remembering and working with what shows up in our dreamscape

> Toko-pa’s perspective on the message of Belonging after the divisiveness our society has experienced in the years since it was published

> What happened for both Toko-pa and I when we fell out of belonging from the ideologies of the “wellness world”

> How to build community when you’re under-resourced

> “The Big Lie” when it comes to belonging, and how we can reclaim a sense of belonging to the greater family of things, as Mary Oliver so famously wrote

Listen to the episode on iTunes


Show Notes

Toko-pa’s Website

Belonging:  Remembering Ourselves Home, Toko-pa’s book

The David Abram video about animism mentioned in the interview

Toko-pa’s self-guided program, Dream Drops

Companion, the program that accompanies Belonging


Also, while you’re at it, if you enjoy The Becoming Podcast, I would be so grateful if you would rate and review, and even subscribe to it on iTunes.  That goes a long way to helping more and more people find and benefit from hearing these interviews!  Thank you so much!