My life isn’t what I want it to be. If I’m honest with myself, it never has been.
I have a narrative that I like to sell myself. It’s based on truth, but I can’t tell whether it’s the complete truth. I doubt any of our personal narratives are the complete truth. But here’s my persistent narrative.
I can see a time in my past when I was on the right track. It was a time when I was doing things I was proud of and I thought I had a great future. Then I got off track. I rebelled against something. Maybe it was against The Man. Maybe it was against my father. Maybe it was against culture telling me what I had to be.
I jumped off the treadmill leading to worldly success and I’ve been running away ever since. My narrative tells me that I’m just around the corner from finally succeeding — my own way — without doing what The Man said I had to do.
You have a narrative, too. It’s probably very different from mine. But we almost certainly share something important. We both know something which we desperately need — something we’ve always needed — and we keep finding all sorts of reasons not to reach out and accept whatever it is.
You can almost certainly have what you need. I can certainly have what I need, one way or another. But we continue sleepwalking through life, acting as though our time is unlimited, acting as though we will always have another day to deal with what we need.
Our narratives are the stories we invent to explain the past and explain our present. My narratives try to explain the present by promising that everything is about to be better. By telling myself tomorrow is about to be great, it gives me an excuse not to do anything about today.
I’m the most afraid of love, because that’s what I need the most. I fantasize about having the love and understanding and acceptance that I need from a woman. I dream of having my phone ring one day and having someone say, “I love you enough that I’m willing to find a way to be with you, no matter what.”
But if that were to happen, I would feel panicked. I would feel like running or distrusting what I heard. I would be afraid of being betrayed. You see, it’s not that I’m afraid to love. I’m just so afraid of not being loved that my mind has trouble accepting that as really possible.
There are other things I want which also scare me. There are business opportunities which I’d rather fantasize about than accept. If I’m honest with myself, I’ve always done that. With so many things, I’ve been so afraid of any kind of failure that I simply didn’t try at all. I just told myself how great it would be — one day.
One of the saddest words in human experience is “almost.” The things I regret the most are the things that almost happened — times when I almost took a chance or someone else almost took a chance on me. It’s sad if I love a woman and she doesn’t love me back. But it’s heartbreaking to love a woman and she loves me, too, but she decides not to take a chance on me.
I don’t know who wrote these words, but they express the idea quite well:
“The saddest word in the whole wide world is the word almost. He was almost in love. She was almost good for him. He almost stopped her. She almost waited. He almost lived. They almost made it.”
If you’re happy with your life — if you’re where you had hoped to be and you’re loved as you want to be loved — this might not apply to you. But for the vast majority of us, there’s a gnawing feeling of regret inside us when we allow ourselves to feel it. We know we haven’t accepted the things we need. We know we’ve been afraid to take more emotional risks. We know we’ve wasted our time — and deep down, we know we’re running out of time.
I suppose there can be a million reasons why we do these things, but they mostly boil down to some form of a fear that we don’t deserve to have our true needs met. Someone wouldn’t think we’re good enough. Someone else wouldn’t understand what we did. Someone else would criticize us. We can find a million reasons to keep running — to continue finding “logical reasons” to reject what we need.
I had a dream a couple of months ago and I didn’t remember all of it when I woke up. But I remembered one line strongly enough that I wrote it down as soon as I woke up. I don’t remember exactly the circumstances in the dream or what I was telling someone not to run away from, but I can remember reaching out for a woman’s hand in a fog. I couldn’t see her face, but I knew who she was. It doesn’t entirely make sense to me, but it felt emotionally true.
“You can trust me and let me help you,” I said, “or you can run away, just as you always have before. But you can’t do both.”
I think I can say that to myself and I can probably say it to you, too. We both need things which require the help of someone else to pursue — and to accept — but we can’t have what we need as long as we run away.
I don’t like thinking seriously about making the changes that I need to keep making in my life. I don’t like the thought of going out and finding someone new to love me. I don’t like the thought of taking some business chances that I need to take.
It’s easier for me to stick with my old narrative — to say that it will all magically change tomorrow or the week after or maybe next year. But sticking with that is a great way to end up alone and unhappy at the end of life — thinking about the love and life that I almost had.