The what-if trap

When I listen to podcast or read blogposts from people that have made very different life choices, I sometimes wonder what if I had done something similar. Some of these people FIRE at age 35, some travel the world while house sitting,… You name it, they do it!

The danger is then to to start thinking and reviewing all decisions you took. You then start to play the what if game…

  • What if I had taken more math classes in high school?
  • What if I had taken that one decision a year earlier while still working abroad?
  • What if I had invested rather than saving for a house?
  • What if I had bought even less house?
  • What if we had no kids?

For sure, I most likely would be in a different place and situation than I am now. I might even FI by now.

And yet, that is irrelevant. Would I be happier? Is that the real question? Probably it is a more sensible question to ask.

As the past is the past, and I can not yet time travel, what matters is where I am today and what the good things are.

I should be grateful for a lot of things

  • Having fun and precious moments with my family
  • being in a better financial position than most people ever will be
  • having the time, and community support to think about life and what really matters
  • Feeling purpose and passion in my job and side activities

Of course, this is old knowledge. It is just that today, via a Facebook post, I realized this again. The story was about a professor that gives his students a blank page with a black dot. He asks to describe what they see. Most people will write about the dot, why it is in the centre, what it represent. While in reality, there is also the white space. We often forget the white space.

In life we focus too much on what is wrong or could be different, rather than focusing on what is white and good, what we have know.

Maybe I should have a dot tattooed on my body to remind me every day…!





9 thoughts on “The what-if trap

  1. Ciao ATL,
    Your post comes at a very “strange” time for my personal life, where these kind of “reminders” are pure gold. So thanks for writing it! I find often myself concentrating on negative episodes and bad experiences rather than seeing larger and more satisfactory landscapes. I never think too much about the past myself, what is done is done, there is no meaning in thinking again about a decision made. At least I do not have to struggle with that! To me the hard part is try to focus on the good things, I give them for “granted” and I realize that I do not enjoy them as fully as I should…
    Ciao ciao

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t think you should regret anything. Opportunity costs will always be there. Some things like a family and children are priceless so aren’t you already a bit FIRE? 😉


  3. Enjoy spending time with your girls before they get too busy with boyfriends. It is much easier to catch-up with FIRE but you will never recapture time not spent with them. Time stops for no one, you will be surprised how fast they grow up.


  4. O yes, the what if game. I have played it as well; and as you say, the best is to concentrate on what you have and not on what you do not have. And happiness is indeed the most important. If you are happy with your current life the what if game loses its appeal. So best is to focus on happiness, ignore the stuff you cannot change and get to work on the stuff you can change to increase your happiness. I do not think you need a dot tattooed to remind yourself of it, I am more than happy to come and facepunch you if you ever forget …  On a unrelated note: a news article last week confirmed the government is indeed planning on making 45 km/h bicycles eligible for the ‘fietsvergoeding’. For somebody living 30 km form his workplace this could mean almost an extra 300 euro per month. Check out my post about it, this is big news for most mustachians in Belgium and it now might help with the wife’s plans …


  5. It takes time, but I’m slowly getting better at not wondering “what if”. It bugged me for the longest time, but looking ahead and just keep going has limited my need to think “what if”. Being at peace with oneself is a good thing.
    Talk to you later today!


  6. I try not to look back as much as look forward to how I can make the changes that I want to. I feel like otherwise I would beat myself up trying to figure out where I went wrong. Not point in doing that since I can’t change the past but can change the future 🙂


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