The road not taken

On the whole, I’m not someone who dwells too much on the past. I prefer to live in the present, although I should probably think a bit more about the future too. But sometimes I just can’t help but look back and wonder about the road not taken.

A friend of mine published her first novel this week, off the back of three Sunday Times bestselling non-fiction books about life as a mum. Of course, I was delighted for her. And, yes, a teensy bit jealous. (How come some people are so effortlessly talented while the rest of us are just so … mediocre?)

What, me … a writer?

Why jealous? Well, as someone who has wanted to live the cliché about everyone having a book in them, I’ve often (okay, three times) given thought to pursuing a career as a writer. I wrote prolifically as a teenager. In my 30s and 40s, I became a serial blogger. At one point, I was even a regular TV reviewer for Metro.

So, yes, whenever I bask vicariously in my friend’s deserved success, I ponder what might have been. Three times I’ve started writing a book in a rush of enthusiasm. I’ve never gotten past three months and 15,000 words. There’s always been an excuse. Work. Family. A crisis of confidence. Even as a blogger, I’ve always suffered with imposter syndrome; I’ve felt like the wordsmithing equivalent of a karaoke singer trying to win The Voice.

But, if I’m being honest, the biggest stumbling block has been a paralysing fear of rejection and failure. What if I’m not good enough?

It doesn’t stop you wondering “what if?”, though. What if I had had the self-belief, made the commitment, not tripped myself up at the first hurdle? What if I’d actually had the magic combination of talent, a great idea and enough good fortune to get published? I could have been the next Richard Osman. Or Sally Rooney. (Equally, I could have been the next literary Wayne Rooney, but let’s not go there.)

The road not taken.

I’ll never know.

Owning my choices

As much as it (very) occasionally gnaws away at me, it has always been my choice. Whatever the reason, it has always been me – and no one else – who chose to back-track from my first steps down that road and pursue a different path. The road taken.

Each of us has had our share of Sliding Doors moments, right? (I’m a big sci-fi fan, so obviously I know everything there is to know about alternative realities, the multiverse theory and why the events of Avengers: Endgame could or couldn’t happen.) I can tick mine off. Pursuing a practical selection of science A-levels rather than my love of English and History. The series of choices that resulted in me meeting and befriending the girl who would become my wife. Good (and not so good) career choices. Wanting to stop at two children, but agreeing to try for a third. There are maybe half a dozen key moments where the direction of my life pivoted significantly – and probably many more where small, unconscious choices had a huge but invisible impact too.

How many roads have I chosen not to take in my life? Thousands? Millions? I don’t know. You could drive yourself mad trying to consider them all. But all that really matters is the one road I have taken; the series of choices that adds up to the sum total of my life.

Do I regret not trying harder to become a writer? Or a train driver? Or the next James Bond? Not really. Life is for living, not for regrets or dreams of what might have been. And, in truth, my life is pretty good – so why worry? I chose this road, it’s uniquely mine and I own it. No regrets.

Anyway, I’ve just had this great idea for a novel …