This post originally appeared on my Medium on June 12, 2018.
Those two little words, combined, are two of the most powerful words in the English language. Their whispers keep me up at night, and get me going in the morning. Hope and anxiety and second-guessing and possibility all tied up in 8 neat characters.
Whenever I’m on the cusp of a large life decision, I’m wracked with the wrath of the “what if?” While stressing to a friend about the decision to go back to school, move across the world, and pay a pretty penny for the privilege of doing so, he told me: “You can’t A/B test your own life.”
So do things just happen, and we find meaning in it afterwards to spin ourselves a fairy tale that everything worked out as it was meant to?
There are three large life decisions that A/B testing sure would be helpful for:
Where you choose to live
In the absence of a time machine to let you have take-backs if you don’t like where the chosen path is leading, I find playing out the scenarios with the largest upside and the largest downside helps me to make better decisions. It’s a risk versus reward calculation for the highly paranoid.
Here’s how it works:
Identify your “what if” trigger
Go down the rabbit hole of the “worst case scenario”
Find the midpoint
Pull yourself into the light by imagining the best possible outcome
While these days I’m swirling more on career, friendships, and where I’m going to make my home when school is over; I find romantic relationships and options are easier to dissect.
My current “what if” trigger stems from insecurity that taking a year off from dating while I’m a cross-continental nomad in grad school with a full-time job will leave me no options when I’m actually ready. I’m already in my early-thirties, and on a date last night with a man who is almost 40, he mentioned that I’m *technically* too old for him. This wasn’t meant to be cruel; we were clearing the air so that neither of us were under any assumptions about what this could or couldn’t be since we enjoy spending time together. But OUCH!
Playing this worst-case scenario out: I return from grad school, now in my mid-30s, a little worn around the edges from the stressful year. What if I don’t turn as many heads, what if I don’t turn any at all? What if I should’ve chosen the guys in my past that were smart, successful, creative and handsome and adored me but I wasn’t excited about it? What if there’s no one left to date, except 40-something commitment-phobes who think mid-30s is too old for them? What if…what if…what if?
Now, the mid-point: I haven’t found anyone in my 5.5 years in SF, so is one year away really going to make a difference? Plus, in looking back on past relationships, there’s only one I regret so choosing to try something out with someone new — even if it doesn’t work — still is not wasted time. And, I’ve never regretted being single. So even if the status quo remains in place, the status quo isn’t so bad.
And the upside: I find the man of my dreams in London who I otherwise never would’ve met, and he’s got a charming accent so the kids I’m not even sure I want say adorable things like, “Mum, may I please have a spot of tea?”
The point is…since you can’t A/B test your own life, you just have to move forward with confidence.
It will be uncomfortable at times. You’ll think you’re a crazy person at other times. And yes, you’ll probably create a narrative after the fact to make sense of it all. But nothing changes without you being willing to change, and so the biggest what if of all is asking yourself: “What if I don’t?”