“Unled lives are a largely modern preoccupation."... It used to be that, for the most part, people lived the life their parents had, or the one that the fates decreed. Today, we try to chart our own courses. ... Among secular people, the absence of an afterlife raises the stakes. In “Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life,” the psychologist Adam Phillips warns that “once the next life—the better life, the fuller life—has to be in this one, we have a considerable task on our hands.” Given just a single shot at existence, we owe it to ourselves to hit the mark; we must not just survive but thrive. It’s no wonder that for many of us “the story of our lives becomes the story of the lives we were prevented from living.”
#239 / Ballerina Or Brain Surgeon - August 28, 2010
#253 / FOMO At A Certain Age - September 10, 2015
#168 / Where Did I Go Wrong? - June 16, 2020
#207 / The Path Not Taken - July 25, 2020
You can see that I have been somewhat preoccupied with this topic, and for a long time, too. Basically, I have been thinking about the issue during the entire ten-year period I have been writing this blog - and before that, too, undoubtedly. Whether you call it the "Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)" or "unlived lives," or "the path not taken," I believe many of us have to struggle with this issue as a reality that irks us, as soon as we start thinking about it.
I am well-acquainted with the life I have. But what about the life I don't have? The one I could have had? The better, more fulfilled, more productive, more important life I could have had? Where did I go wrong?
My thoughts on this matter, if you review my blog posts identified above, center on the idea that it is an error to think that we have failed in our lives because we have not had the lives we can now imagine, the lives we might have had, had we done something differently way back when.
Just recently, as I gave final remarks in the Capstone Thesis course I taught during Fall Quarter at UCSC, I addressed this very issue with my students, all of whom are about to graduate. As I almost always do, I cited to the Spanish poet, Antonio Machado.
Click the link below for his poem, for my translation, and for a link to a YouTube performance of the poem put to music.
Traveler, your footstepsAre the path–and nothing else;Traveler, there isn’t any path;You make the path as you walk.You make the path as you walk,And when you look backYou will see the pathway thatYou will never be able to travel again.
Traveler, there isn’t any path,Just the traces of your footsteps on the sea.