One after the other, when asked what they would do differently for the next assignment, each student said, “I’d get started sooner and stop procrastinating.” I listened from a seat in the corner of the classroom, and their lament struck a chord with me. They were all of eighteen years old, and even with our age gap, like me, they wrestled with a fear of mismanagement. Their fear manifested in sweaty palms the night before class, and questionable essays constructed between pizza slices and texting. My fear manifested in sleepless nights and rambling journal entries wondering if I’d mismanaged the past two decades of my adult life.
I used to imagine what my life would look like if I’d started “living” it sooner. If I’d moved away from home sooner, embraced my writing sooner, known and understood my own soul–sooner. The list trails behind me like a thick cloak–one I’ve worn for far too long. The problem with this fictional reality is that it appears like an underdeveloped photograph. Only part of the picture is revealed, while the rest remains blurry. I can’t see how an impossible future would take shape because every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Every confident step towards an imagined path, requires that I step away from the reality of another.
In my twenties, I was living my life as authentically as I knew how. There is no need for shame or regret or a cloak of if-onlys dragging behind me on the wandering path it took me to arrive in my forties. What I once saw as a putting-off or procrastination, was simply growing up. Embracing new experiences, making every-size decisions, falling, failing, losing my way, trying again.
There is always an alternate path shimmering like a mirage in our imagined future. But it is the path of reality, the one worn with our footprints, crowded with the faces we love, lined with the rooted growth of the seeds sown year after year that appears in sharp focus. Our mistakes may litter the path, but our triumphs and great loves and moments of illumination do too.
If you find yourself wishing you’d started something sooner–family life, pursuit of your vocation, self-care, loving others well, faith-building–it’s never too late to start. Looking back and wishing for the imagined past, will not improve your present or give you a fresh and prophetic vision for your future. Cast off the cloak of if-onlys. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide you. It’s the road ahead with its infinite possibilities that matters.