That’s Men: If I had my life to live over, I would change lots
Padraig O’Morain on life and all its regrets
‘If I had my life to live over, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Don’t you feel a little tug of guilt, loss or dismay when you hear a declaration like that on the radio or TV? Usually the declaration is made by a senior person who is being feted at the time and who is, therefore, in an optimistic mood with regard to past and present.
What that little emotional tug means, I think, is “Where did I go wrong?”
If I had my life to live over I would change lots of things: I would be less timid and I would care less about the opinions of strangers; I would tell many people to eff off whom I should have told to eff off; I would have written The Great Irish Novel; I would not have held back in everything I ever did.
Lacking in insight?
And so on and so forth. It’s a commonplace list. You learn to let these considerations pass you by on the grounds that you can’t do anything about them.
Then along comes some codger who makes the declaration: “If I had my life to live over, l would do it all again. I wouldn’t change a thing.” Cue applause. Cue coos from the interviewer.
Is it possible that this individual, whom I have never heard of, has managed to design the perfect life? Or is it that he is, as I usually hope to be the case, totally lacking in insight or perhaps just plain lying, for the sake of his family?
And is it possible that he is the twin brother of that other guy who always gets to me? That’s the one who declares about his work, “I am the luckiest man in the world. I get to work at doing what I love. In fact, I don’t even think of it as work.”
Well lucky you, you smug sod. Thanks for making me ask yet again where I went wrong. By and large I have worked at things I have chosen to work at.
But I haven’t always enjoyed it. Sometimes it’s been a pain in the neck.
Every day for 20 years I paused at the brass plaque outside the old Irish Times office on Fleet Street that said “The Irish Times Editorial and Works Entrance” because I couldn’t believe I was entitled to walk up the stairs and into the newsroom without being challenged about what I thought I was doing there.
But it wasn’t playing. It was work. So why couldn’t I have been like the guy on the radio or the telly and feel like it was all jolly good fun? Why didn’t they have to drag me out of the office every evening? Where did I go wrong?
Once again my hope is that the interviewee is making it all up. I hope that in reality he spent his Sundays in a cloud of gloom because of the imminent arrival of Monday morning.
I say all this although I have been lucky and have led, compared with others I can think of, a charmed life. I don’t really have anything to complain about.
I am sitting here writing this in the bright and airy cafe of the National Gallery. Working conditions don’t get much better than that. Yet, ungrateful wretch that I am, I would be happier wandering around looking at the pictures than doing actual work.
I don’t suppose I would change very much, after all, if I had my life to live over again: not that I’m asking to. I’m with the Buddhists on this one, when they ask, in the (almost) words of Bob Dylan, “What do you have to do to get out of going through this thing twice?”
If the conditions of my life were the same second time around, I guess human inertia would keep me doing what I did first time around. Not a very noble reason that. Universe: if reincarnation is on the cards, give it to those two other guys.
email@example.com Padraig O’Morain is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Mindfulness on the Go. His newsletter is free by email.