by Maile Sundquist
One thing that plagues me on a day-to-day basis is the idea of could-haves. I could have been a professional singer if only I had tried out for American Idol, I could have been a skydiver if I wasn’t afraid of heights, I could have made a better impression my first day of work had I not accidentally put my bra on over my tank top.
The other day someone asked my husband why he wasn’t a college professor. He gets that a lot. Things like, how are you not a famous theologian or philosopher? You mean you aren’t a widely-published author? How have you not won a Nobel Peace Prize for being the kindest person alive and the smartest, most influential mind of your generation? You should be the president!
You might think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. My husband is one of the most sophisticated, intelligent, logical, rational, well-rounded thinkers I know. He is eloquent and exceptional at public speaking and teaching, well-read and a genius with words. He is personable and relatable, an excellent conversationalist and a good listener. The best part is that he is the farthest thing from cocky or pretentious and has a random and goofy sense of humor to boot. He is truly brilliant and immensely talented in so many regards, and I say these things with my rose-colored glasses removed.
When people make these statements about him or ask him or me these questions, I recognize that it is a huge compliment on his abilities and character; however, part of me flinches a bit because of the unintentional implied idea of failure. He has confided in me on several occasions that he does feel like he should have pursued this or that rather than the path he chose at the time, but I think he realizes that he never had grand ambitions and has been pretty content in life as long as he’s been able to have a stable job and the freedom to do the things he loves.
I’m not gonna lie, though: there are times I wish my husband was more ambitious. Still, I envy his ability to be content with little and know his limitations and recognize what he wants out of life.
I have lived my life for years with regrets, shame, and disappointment. All of it heaped on by myself. What’s odd is that I am a highly self-confident person, but I am brutal to myself when it comes to my expectations of myself. In contrast to my husband, I am a huge overachiever, visionary, entrepreneur, and dreamer. I have had innumerable ambitions, many of which have never been achieved, and with each unrealized ambition inevitably comes Maile’s all-you-can-eat buffet o’ guilt. Now, let’s see, you didn’t finish your album for the third year in a row? Well, we already tried “you’re a procrastinating lazy sack,” so this time, why don’t we try “you had your chance and you squandered it. You’re too old to succeed in music now!”
Yup, I have every flavor of insult and blame and guilt in my personal self-assaulting arsenal. Has it done me any good? Not in the least! If anything, this mentality has slowly chipped away at my self-worth and self-respect, leaving little room for self-love and perpetuating negativity and regret. It often leaves me afloat in a sea of condemnation, overwhelmed by and focused on my failures rather than on what I have accomplished and the things in life I am a winner at.
I’m writing this because I know I’m not alone. And what I hope to do is encourage those of you who struggle in this way, as well as myself, to try to focus not on what you could have done, or who you could have been, but what you’re doing, and who you are now.
For instance, my husband may not be a prestigious author, speaker, or teacher, but he is a phenomenal father, a hard worker, and the writing and songs he creates for his loved ones will be forever cherished. When he comments on current events or politics, or shares a philosophical musing or a theological insight, those that read his words are challenged, enlightened, and inspired. In the end, he is living the life he wants to, in the way he chooses to, and he’s enjoying it. What more can one ask for?
I encourage you to focus on the blessings and the positives in yourself and your life and keep pursuing what you love without comparing yourself to others and without condemnation. If it’s meant to be you may become the next Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, or Wendy, who changed the world with her square hamburger patties, but if you don’t, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed, or not lived up to your potential. As long as you are giving your all to be the kind of person you want to be and living the kind of life you want, then what you do, what you’re recognized for, or what others think of you is insignificant.
Live your best life and be your best self! That’s the best anyone could hope to accomplish!