I have this policy in life. It’s called: never wonder ‘what if?’
The worst feeling in the world is not doing something and then spending the rest of your life wondering what would have happened if you’d done it, like the alternate Trillian who didn’t leave with Zaphod Beeblebrox in the Hitchhiker’s series and therefore missed out on that life. I’m constantly paranoid that I’m taking the wrong turning and, like Donna Noble in Turn Left (NewWho series four), it’ll have implications throughout the universe.
Egotistical, I know. But within my personal universe, I’m acutely aware that every decision I make affects my future. This makes it very difficult to make decisions, as anyone who witnessed my attempts to apply to university will know—I ummed and ahhed and it was a long time before I decided what to put down, convinced that whatever I did was the wrong decision.
So a couple of years ago, I decided that I wasn’t going to try and second-guess what was the ‘right’ decision. I was going to try everything, just so I didn’t wonder what would have happened.
This, at the time, took the form of auditioning for the English National Youth Ballet’s production of Swan Lake, despite only having returned to ballet eight months before the audition after a gap of over four years, and working through the fact that a week before the audition, I’d actually been on crutches.
It was a terrible audition. Disastrous. And, the same day, I found out that the dance summer camp I wanted to go on as my “consolation prize” had changed its dates due to the Olympics, and now clashed with a commitment I’d already made, so I couldn’t go on that.
While I was sitting in the kitchen crying after coming home from this awful evening, my sister said to me, “But you said you were going just so you didn’t wonder ‘what if’.” And she was right. Even though I knew that, inexperienced as I was, I was unlikely to get in, I wanted to try.
It’s better to know that you tried, and didn’t manage it, than wonder what would have happened if you had taken the chance. You’ll just end up running through it in your head, convinced you’ve cheated yourself out of a future career.
As it happened, it was no bad thing that I didn’t get into the ENYB, because I had significant health issues that year and would have found it super stressful to do; it would also have negatively impacted by schoolwork. And I found another summer course
Recently, this attitude prompted me to decide to enter the National Poetry Competition. With a first prize of five grand and several pretty decent runners’ up payouts, it had plenty of financial incentives. It’s also incredibly prestigious, and one of the few poetry competitions that 17 year olds can enter—most have an age limit of 18+.
Of course, I thought it unlikely I’d get anywhere, being far less experienced that anyone else who entered, but it was worth a try, right? Plus father person agreed to pay the entry fee. I chose the poems I planned to enter (I’d written hundreds in the past few months, but it was easy to find five that I thought were good enough) and then, because the deadline was ages away, forgot about it.
And missed the deadline. And didn’t enter.
And so I was sitting there, mad at myself—in fact, I still am, over a week later. Because, you see, I’ll always be wondering, “What if I’d entered that? What if I’d won? Where would I be now?” Though arrogant in the extreme to even think I had a chance, one likes to be optimistic, at least in the privacy of one’s head…
So there are a couple of opportunities coming up in the future, and I have a 0.00000002% chance of getting anywhere with them, but for this reason, I’m going to try. Of course I won’t be the lucky one in a million who gets that chance—but I’m going to try.
So that I don’t wonder ‘what if’. So that I don’t have to regret that.
There’s nothing to be lost by trying; a few hours out of a day means nothing, and even the twenty quid I would have spent on that poetry competition would have been nothing compared to the potential rewards. So when you have everything to gain, even though it’s unlikely, why not try?
Don’t be afraid. You have more of a chance if you try than if you’re too scared to enter the competition or go to the audition, however unlikely it may seem.
Go on. Go and do it, that thing you’re thinking of, that ‘maybe’. I DARE YOU.