Certain places are the end of the world. San Francisco was like that when I lived out there, and Key West (from which I just returned) appears to be another. These are places that have more than their share of burned-out cases, but also a high number of people that decided to chuck it all and start their life again.
Key West is delightful in its acceptance of eccentricity, but also in the variety of ages of those who have decided to re-start their lives in some radically new way. The first morning our waitress was in her 70s, with a sequined beret, fingerless gloves, and a few other items of clothing people 20 years younger might hesitate to wear. On the way down, the plane seat right in front of us was occupied by another femme d’un certain âge who was head to toe in red velvet, and who I later saw in the airport kissing the much younger husband she had mentioned. Gives one hope, non?
But the point of this tale is to address all the guilt and regrets I hear this time of year, along with the resolutions to do better. Sure, I’ve got a few regrets myself. Okay, maybe a hundred. What I saw while in Key West was what I think most of us who are baby boomers (or younger) have experienced—you may have to restart your life several times. There are a few people among my clients and acquaintances that knew they wanted to be lawyers at 20 and will retire from that same profession at 66. But far more common is the person who started out as an attorney and is now a shaman, the investment banker who re-trained in Chinese medicine, the corporate executive who retired early to paint, and the divorcée who started an entrepreneurial venture. Technology and the demand for skills has moved so swiftly in the past 30 years that few of us could have known what training we needed “back then”. Few of us planned to get a divorce when we said, “I do”, and all of us believed when pregnant that our children would sail brilliantly from pre-school through the Ivy League to a high paying job, a devoted partner, and a long and healthy life. If only.
Then there are the regrets about not having saved enough, made poor investment choices, and bankrolled a relative or child that turned out to be a black hole. Our brilliant children sprout terrible problems, our competent and ambitious spouse develops a chronic illness, our boss is unreasonable, our co-workers insane, our company gives us the shaft.
What can you do about that history? Truly, nothing. None of us can re-write the past, control another’s behavior, or singlehandedly manage our employer or our clients. Didn’t lose the weight you planned, didn’t meet your savings goal? Um, me too.
On several mornings in Key West, I found myself waking up depressed. I, too, wanted to chuck it all and re-start in some tropical paradise where stress was low, seafood was plentiful, and I didn’t need a winter coat ever again. Or move to Paris. Or sell the house and keep only what fit in a back pack. Or…or…
Once I had my coffee and was able to shake off the effects of the previous night’s tropical drinks, I was able to think this through.
Just about every decision we make seems right at the time. Most of us try to make good decisions based on what we know at that point, or make bad decisions because we’re just too stressed out over something else to focus down. And, every time you make a decision, you close down other possibilities. This is why so many people have great ideas for a novel, but so few of us actually write one. Artistic types in particular may get stuck on the dime because even finished works are never as good as they were in the imagination.
A trip to Key West gave me plenty of examples of the possibilities of alternatives and creating a life different from the past, and people who courageously face what it takes to make that change. We can’t change the past, but we can re-boot and aim toward a different future. As long as you’re alive, it’s possible.