It's traditional at this time of year to take some time out to rest and reflect on the year just gone, and perhaps to consider what's ahead in the new year to come. Some of us go so far as to make "new year's resolutions" in which we resolve to make some change, or changes, in our life. My personal record with such resolutions is not impressive, so this year I have resolved not to make any.
Does that mean I consider myself to be fine just as I am? Well, yes and no. There are things I'm already doing, that I'm going to keep on doing because I've made them into habits and because I like the direction they're taking me. I also observe that there's no particularly good reason for picking the new year as a starting point for some new habit that I want to cultivate. I can do that at any time, if and when I put my mind to it.
A few days ago, as the sun was sinking slowly and 2023 was receding in the rear-view mirror, I found myself musing on how I got to where (and who) I am today. I was reflecting on the sheer number of "coincidences," some of them very, very improbable, that had to occur in order to bring me to this point. If I hadn't decided to do X instead of Y, if I hadn't met that particular person in that particular place and had that particular conversation with them, if it had rained that day instead of being sunny, if I'd zigged instead of zagged, if... if... if... Well, you get the picture.
When I look back down my timeline I see so many forks in my road, where taking a different turn to the one I actually took would have led me to a radically different route through life and probably to a quite different destination. The older I get, the more of these possible pasts peel off from my timeline and vanish into the cloud of possibility that surrounds us all.
Perhaps somewhere there exists a multiverse of parallel worlds in which I have taken a different route. The questions that arise then include, is the person who followed a different route through his life still me? Is he anything like me? How has his life turned out? Does he have any regrets about the choices he made?
Perhaps he's extremely wealthy and/or wields great power and authority. Perhaps he's the sort of person that others observe enviously, wishing they were him.
On the other hand, perhaps he's the sort of person who's made such a mess of his life that others observe him with pity and a feeling that he's only there to serve as a warning to everyone else.
I can't know with any degree of certainty how my life would have turned out if I'd made different choices along the way. All I have to work with is the person I am today, the person I've become as a result of the choices I've made, the decisions I've taken and the actions - and inactions - that have followed from them. My journey through life hasn't always been as easy as I might have liked it to be. Certainly there were times when, with the benefit of hindsight, I have to admit that I seriously screwed up. All I can say in my own defence is that I did the best I could as the person I was at that time. There were lessons I needed to learn, and if I hadn't made those mistakes then I wouldn't have learned them.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing but, knowing what I know now, if you gave me a time machine I still wouldn't go back and change anything, because although some of it was difficult, unpleasant, embarrassing to look back on and even downright painful, what I learned from those experiences has made me the man I am today.
As I mused over my myriad of possible pasts I was filled with a profound sense of gratitude. I'm here, now, because of the very particular journey I took though life and the things I learned along the way. I do what I do because I am who I am, and I don't have any regrets about how I got here. I'm not nostalgic for anything I once was or had or did, and I don't dwell on might-have-been's.
What, then, of the future?
As it happens I do possess a crystal ball, but it's not very much help in trying to figure out what's coming my way.
My journey through life has taught me one very powerful lesson: whatever life throws at me, good, bad or indifferent, I have the strength, courage, resilience and self-confidence to take it on. Win or lose, I'm always the same person, still me, still here, still learning and growing.
Will 2024 be a "happy new year," as many of my friends have wished me? I don't know. What I do know is that it will put another winding path full of "coincidences" in front of me, forks in the road where I will have to make choices to go this way or that. I know that there isn't the least possibility that I will make a "wrong" choice, because there is no right or wrong, there's only different. Every choice I make teaches me something new that contributes to my learning and growth. Every choice I make contributes to making me even more me.
I've learned that life is about figuring out who I am, and then being that. Everything that happens - every single thing - is an opportunity to demonstrate that, to be authentically myself and to accept full responsibility for my own life and destiny. I am in the driving seat of my life, and the route I take and the ultimate destination at which I arrive are entirely up to me.
In an uncertain world, that's a comforting thought, isn't it.