It's easy to identify wrong choices after the event but it's important not to lose your life to regret. Every door you choose to open, leaves not one but many closed. Who is to say which of the others would have led to better paths? If real life gave us a video game's opportunities to go back and make other choices, even three lives might still not be enough.
At dark times in my marriage to the late Mrs P., I sometimes remembered a time at university when I considered ending our relationship to pursue another woman. In those fantasies, the alternate Mrs P. and I lived happily ever after in fairy-tale style. In truth, that potential relationship would have had its issues too. I might well have married the other lady and found myself fantasising that I had chosen Mrs P. instead.
In a way, the last six months of the late Mrs P's life were the best of our marriage. The problems that had often made us miserable were put into perspective. Faced with the real problem of her cancer, they hardly seemed worthy of the name. Just as we'd grown together in the struggles of our early lives, the shared focus on her survival brought us close. As I took care of her in ways she'd never imagined I could, her insecurities about my love disappeared. Focusing on her care made me, for a while at least, less selfish. Things that might once have made me angry suddenly seemed far too trivial to fret about. Some of that perspective never left me. I am a calmer man than I was if not a wiser one.
When Mrs P. died, I discovered how complex grief is. Among many things, I grieved the loss of my hope that one day we'd solve the problems of our marriage. It may well have been a forlorn hope; clung to rather than embraced. Perhaps if she'd survived her cancer our new perspective might have made for a perfect marriage? But she didn't. In these matters, as in so may, you just can't tell, so why waste time speculating?
In the month since Mrs P. the Second left me, I have experienced grief again. I have wished I never met her. I have cast aside every happy memory in dark thoughts. Yet the truth is she may well have saved my life. In my grief at the time I met her, I was taking no care of myself. That I lived to experience this new loss is painful but without her I might not be here to experience it – or anything else.
We don't learn much from success in my experience. It tends to make us complacent and stale. It was the success of the Kodak company – proprietor of arguably the world's best-known brand – that made its leadership dismiss digital photography when one of its employees invented it. Off he went to a competitor and off they went into the dustbin of commercial history.
When I look back on my life, I realise it was the errors and losses that helped me grow. In fact all that was best in my career arose from my very worst mistake. I have often used that story when counselling friends and colleagues worried about career choices. I tell them "make the best choice you can, but don't worry too much. The bad choice might lead to great things too."
With that positive thought I wish you all, gentle readers, a very happy new year. I hope that 2022 will be a better year for all of us.