The Best Decision You Ever Made

You step inside the time machine and contemplate how far back you’ll go. Ten years? Twenty? Thirty? The choice is entirely yours.

Your mission is simple and singular: you are to share a message with your younger self, so that he might benefit from the wisdom you have gleaned in the years you have lived since.

You get only one shot at this: you choose the age of your younger self, and you have thirty seconds to impart something. After that, you disappear. Not just from the presence of your younger self. But the visit invariably means that the person you are now will disappear forever and be replaced by some variation. Someone slightly different? Radically different? Still alive, or no longer? Who’s to say?

Sure, you could whisper in Younger Self’s ear: “Buy 10,000 shares of [such-and-such] stock right away!” And then poof, off you go and Younger Self will have to decide what to make of this visit, and what to do about it, if anything.

You have been assured, however, that the visit will be a profound experience for Younger Self, not something she is likely to completely dismiss or ignore. Even if Younger Self concludes the whole thing was hallucinatory, it will feel significant to them — compelling and unforgettable.

What will you say to Younger Self?!

Will you urge him to avoid that life-changing injury you never fully recovered from?

Will you attempt to spare her from the suffering of a go-nowhere job or toxic relationship you have lived through?

Will you advise them to pursue a particular path, one you never explored, or one you wished you had embarked on earlier?

Or: will your message be more philosophical in nature, rather than specific?

You are aware of the magnitude of this opportunity and are determined to make the most of it.

You want this to prove to be the best decision you ever made.


But, wait a second.

You can’t unsee what you saw just moments ago in the waiting room.

You learned, via a glance at paperwork that was not intended for your eyes, that this scene has played itself out before. Future You has previously visited Younger You!

It happened long ago in a dream you have no recollection of. However, the experience was apparently impactful at the time. The summarizing notes you managed to skim while no one was looking (kept deliberately vague, you guessed) indicated that you had spared yourself experiencing certain miseries. But the notes also suggested that a price was paid for this — you couldn’t gather exactly what this was in the brief amount of time you had before the papers were swept from view by a technician.

The last word you managed to glimpse was underlined several times in ink. It was: “Trade-offs!”

You pause for a moment.

Armed with the knowledge that a previous version of Future You sacrificed herself for your benefit, you quickly deduce that this (clearly) did not solve everything. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be embarking on this very mission, would you?

It occurs to you that, if this undertaking were to be repeated ad infinitum, the best-case scenario would result (theoretically) in your never having made any less-than-great decisions.

But what would such an existence look like? Would it be at all satisfying or feel at all meaningful? Would you have experienced any growth whatsoever on your journey, or simply good fortune?

You’ve also seen enough sci-fi movies to know that unintended consequences of messing with the past are practically a guarantee.

Damn it! You paid a hefty portion of your savings for this opportunity, and it could not have been made any clearer that there are no refunds.

Nevertheless, it’s clear what you need to do.

You exit the time machine before departure, and inform the man in the lab coat of your decision. Your window of opportunity for bettering your current circumstances has vanished. You are deciding to end this mad pursuit of a perfectly lived life and avoidance-of-all-suffering right here and right now.

You vow never to go back, but instead to choose self-compassion and forgiveness over regret. To bravely live the rest of your life in the face of ever-present uncertainty, and to do the best you can with it each day.

You feel a swell of dignity arise from within as you leave the facility.

It feels like the best decision you have ever made.

Originally published at on July 8, 2022.



Writer, musician, teacher, coach, philosopher, biped.

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