It’s the question I ask a hundred times a day in a hundred different scenarios.
“What if…you really stood up for something you believed in, or told someone you disagreed with them, and they hated you for it?”
“What if…you talked to that stranger, and they thought you were weird and didn’t want to be your friend?”
“What if…your boss knew about what you don’t get done and fired you?”
“What if…you spend a bit too much money this month and bounce your account and get evicted from your house and have no health insurance?”
These thoughts paralyze me. They always conclude with the worst case scenario. They’re exhausting.
And these thoughts plague me all day. They can be mild or seem cataclysmic. Sometimes, I can easily dismiss them. Other times, I have to fight tooth and nail to convince myself these thoughts are not my reality.
My therapist taught me if something I say or think begins with “What if,” it’s to be dismissed as “just a thought.” Sometimes that works. Other times, I wonder if, just this once, it’s not just a thought but an inevitable fact. I begin to doubt myself, my therapist, my loved ones, everything and everyone I know and trust.
But sometimes, I remember the other “What ifs,” which actually pushed me forward and had postive outcomes.
“What if…I used my stories to encourage other people with anxiety?”
“What if…I use my blog as a platform for social justice, to call out those with privilege to break systems of oppression and fear, and to stand in solidarity with the marginalized?”
“What if…I try out for Twelfth Night and meet some of the most amazing people ever?”
“What if…I pursue a deeper relationship with this cute, blonde best friend of mine?”
Not all of my “What ifs” are paralyzing or pessimistic. Some of them offer hope, a chance to consider something new and wonderful. They have been the thoughts which led to some of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
“What ifs” are double-edged swords. They are full of paralysis and potential. They hinder and help. They are part of who I am and how I live.
So how do I live a life empowered by the positive ones, not enslaved by the negative ones?
How do I live a life in which my thoughts pull me forward instead of tie me down?