Mental Wellness

The Danger and Beauty of “What if?”

I ran across a video of myself in Puerto Rico with my family, taken about a year or two before I got married. In that moment, I was surrounded by my family in a way that I hadn’t experienced since moving to Texas. It hasn’t been that way since that day, and will likely never be like that again. Since my abuela’s passing, things are different now, a bittersweet reminder of how life moves forward. 


I mourned thinking about that girl. Being bicultural means straddling two worlds, never fully belonging to one or the other. And this sparked a nagging question: “What if?” It’s a question that is equally tantalizing as it treacherous, threatening to send me into a deep spiral.


The consequences of our choices often reveal themselves gradually, but the impact of moving away from one’s homeland is immediate, profound and violent. I can vividly trace the direct repercussions of my decision to relocate. The haunting specter of “what if?” persists, teasing me with alternate possibilities.  Perhaps for others, the pivotal moment comes with choices about careers, relationships, or family. Nonetheless, there exists a clear point where the timeline splits.


The “what if” isn’t a constant presence in my life. Sometimes it arises during challenging times, serving as a temporary escape from discontent. Yet, this time, it emerged from a deeper, more tender place—the part of me that lies dormant, untouched by the choices I’ve made.  And I feel so much empathy for her. She was left behind in the wake of the other as a result of more pressing issues. 


We often hear: “It isn’t greener on the other side. The grass is greener where you water it.” There is some truth to this. If we let the “what ifs” consume us, they will rob us from the present you are living and ruin the future in front of us. This can create a sense of guilt or pressure to be constantly grateful for our current circumstances, even if they were shaped by necessity rather than desire.  This approach is too dismissive of the complexities of the “What if?” 


Uunderneath the initial question of “what if?” there is often a deep grief that has nowhere to go – a mourning of sorts that needs to take place. It is the grief of lives not lived, dreams not achieved and versions of ourselves left behind. Hence, I propose something gentler for our “what ifs.” Could we offer an invitation to allow our “what ifs” to take up all the space it needs, knowing that in the honoring and grieving of them makes room for us to live fully in the present?


The truth is, we will never have definite answers to our “what ifs.” Our minds make up scenarios to answer these questions, but life is rarely that straightforward. However, the longings the question brings up can reveal new and more interesting depths of ourselves, allowing us insight into why we made the choices we did. Allowing the “what ifs” to take up space in us can help us clarify our path forward, letting the lingering questions to inform us of what we no longer want to wonder about. 


In a more unsettling way, the “what ifs” can serve as a poignant reminder of the choices we should have made in the past, and encourage us to make those choices now. While some choices are irreversible, we can choose to move forward with confidence knowing that we always make the best decisions with the information available to us in the present moment.


As I think about the girl in that video, I reflect on how my life would actually be so very different if I would have remained in Puerto Rico. I may have chosen a different career, spent my days at the beach, and raised kids that only know sand instead of snow for Christmas. Yet, there is no way to really know if she would have found greater happiness or contentment in those alternate choices than I do now. Amidst the fertile soil of grief from my latest “what if”, I have noticed there has been a tender sprout of pride – for the young woman that made so many hard decisions at the young age of 18 and survived to tell the tale. I am who I am today not just for the choices I did make, but also for the choices I didn’t make. 


To be sure, the dwelling on the “what ifs?” is not an exercise without risk. We may find something we had buried or avoided purposely. Yet, if we let it, the “what if?” will break our hearts right open to all the possibilities and love in front of us. It can help us shift our focus from the past to our future, reminding us that we can grow, adapt, and thrive even in the most difficult circumstances. 


The “what ifs” will always be around as long as there are choices we didn’t make, but underneath the grief, there is a fertile ground for growth and self-discovery. This is the heart of understanding where we come from, who we are and who we aspire to become. And the reminder that for every choice we didn’t make, we made a choice that led us to this very moment. And right now? There are countless invitations beckoning us to choose what comes next. 


by hhmcclure

Hilda McClure holds a Master of Arts in Counseling from the Dallas Theological Seminary and a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education from Dallas Baptist University. She is currently a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) , specializing inworking with children, adolescents and young adults. Hilda is also a trained EMDR therapist, Somatic Experiencing Practioner in traiing and a trauma-focused bilingual counselor.

Hilda’s passion for teaching elementary school students drove her to pursue avenues to help children and youth overcome traumas and mental health challenges. On her journey to assist children and youth in building resilience, she developed an evidence-based intervention program for children residing with their single mothers in a residential program. Hilda is passionate about early childhood mental health and building resilience in families.

Hilda is dedicated to helping individuals become their best selves through efforts such as sharing her knowledge with other professionals to increase their skillset and help others. Hilda has authored two articles on LinkedIn called “How Trauma Impacts Children” and “Early Childhood Development: Overcoming Trauma.” Hilda has also presented on child development and psychology theories and modalities for groups of professionals and currently serves as an Adjunct Professor at Dallas Christian College.


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