You can have some pretty interesting conversations with kids as they can come up with some pretty interesting questions out of the blue. Just such a conversation happened earlier this week with my oldest daughter.
During our little talk, I asked her to imagine what would happen if an unbreakable chain was suddenly formed between the earth (presumably nearest the equator) and the moon. Her little mind raced with different thoughts, none of them good for the planet earth, and we finally concluded that anyone who lived long enough to survive the catastrophic events in the immediate term would certainly be doomed within 10 hours as the coil of chain reeled in the moon until it collided with the planet.
"That could never really happen though," she informed me. I smiled. "That's what you call a thought experiment. It makes things interesting and can lead you to think in different ways about the things around you."
She asked for another one, and so I asked her to imagine what it would be like to have a million dollars, but you couldn't spend any of it.
She talked about all the things she could buy with a million dollars, but I had to keep reminding her that she couldn't spend any of the money. If she had a million dollars, but couldn't spend even one penny of it, how would her life be different than it was right now? She puzzled it over, but she never could let go of the thought of actually having money you could not spend. I reminded her again, that this too was only a thought experiment, and that the value of something that was never to be used was equal to the value of nothing at all.
I also told her that people who wish for a million dollars are not really wishing for a million dollars just to have a million dollars sitting around. There is something they want to do with that million dollars; something they want to change about their life. What they want to change is the real reason they want a million dollars, and they think having that money to spend will allow them to change something that they see as a problem in their life.
We talked some more, but my own mind began to wander. As I listened to my daughter, I thought about all the things in the past that brought her into my life. How many different scenarios could have played out, different choices with different outcomes, and that I would trade none of them with the moment I was sharing right then. I look back on my own life, and I can see that by any standard I had it rough growing up. Without getting into details, I can say there are very few people who would wish to trade places with me if they knew everything about how I grew up.
In my own little thought experiment, I sometimes wonder what if . . .
What if this had been different, what if that choice had been made instead, what if I went here instead of there, and on and on the "what ifs" go. The reality is that I am here now because of all that has been. As the conversation winds down, it occurs to me that it is not the "what ifs" in life that really matter. Those "what if" moments in your past are like a million dollars you can never spend.
You cannot count on "what if" to change your life as it is right now, nor can you blame "what if" to change your past. I look back and see that many people in similar circumstances in life never seemed to be able to break out beyond the thought experiment of "what if", as they continue to blame the past for everything that happens in their life today and in the future.
What matters now are not the "what ifs" of the past, but the concrete decisions you make to ensure real change moving forward from here.