In Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, The Raven, the constant answer of that famed bird is the word “Nevermore”. I’m hard pressed to think of any other word more definitive, more final than it. It is a word we all learn the meaning of in time.
While not quite as dismal and dreary, there are four words that can conjure up some of the same emotions. While ‘nevermore’ speaks to what once was and never will be again, the four words, “what could have been” speaks to what never was nor ever will be. The words refer to missed opportunities, be it in our work, our relationships, or any other aspect of our lives. We sometimes use the phrase in talking of others when we believe a great potential has been squandered. In those circumstances, however, I think it best left to the person in question to make a judgment as to whether an opportunity was missed or whether they did exactly what they intended to do, full well knowing the consequences.
Unfortunately, our evaluations of ‘what could have been’ for ourselves come much too late. Someone else took the job. Someone else married that special person. Someone else invested in that stock we considered but passed by. It is only in hindsight that we think that someone else’s good fortune could have been ours. When we get deeper into that thinking, we typically start to wonder how much in our lives would have been changed had we opted to take that opportunity.
If, however, you don’t let go of the ‘what could have beens’ in your life, it will constrain all that yet can be for you. As I have said time and again, there are no reruns in life. It is what you and circumstances made it. It is the wise person who benefits from a brief evaluation of the past and then armed with that knowledge, moves on, leaving the past where it belongs – in the past.
But still, I have to admit I sometimes find myself caught up in that ‘what could have been’ thinking. So much for taking my own advice. I guess it’s part of human nature.