Last week I read the book The Midnight Library, which is about a young woman named Nora Seed who’s so unhappy with her disappointing life that she resolves to end it. In the place between life and death, however, she finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to “try out’ all the lives that could have been.
It got me thinking about all the decisions I’ve ever made in my life and how each of them have affected the course it’s taken. For example, if I’d spent the last year dating more instead of pining over one dude who lived across the country, could I have met the love of my life? How would that person’s life have been different now if he’d met me? Maybe spending time with him would have changed the relationship I have with my friends and family. Maybe I would have been less inspired to work towards my personal aspirations. There’s no way to know what might have been.
Far more interesting than dwelling on the past, however, is the present. I mean, if I chose to, I could quit my job right now. I could book a plane ticket to Paris, use my savings to rent a cheap apartment, and find myself a handsome Parisian lover named Henri. Will I actually do any of that? Probably not (sorry, Henri). My point, though, is that I could do all of that, and that’s both a terrifying and exhilarating thing.
We go through our lives feeling like we don’t have control over what happens to us, but we have so much more power than we realize. Within each of us are little infinities of lives we could live, and it’s the decisions we make each day—both major and seemingly insignificant—that determine how our lives will branch out.
This is one of the major themes of The Midnight Library, but there’s another equally as important lesson. In each of the lives Nora Seed visits—from famous rockstar to Olympic swimmer to average wife and mother—there are both joys and disappointments awaiting her. This is why it’s pointless to dwell on all our “could-have-been’s.” It’s so easy to convince yourself that if you only did this or if you just took a chance on that, you could be living a much better life than you are now, but the far likelier possibility is that, even in that life, you’d still have good and bad days.
After reading The Midnight Library, I have a new perspective on the decisions I make each day. It’s up to me to chart my own course for a great day, but beyond that a great life. If I’ve learned anything from Nora Seed, it’s that there’s no way to know what actually dictates “the perfect life,” but an abundance of love—friends, family, significant others, pets—seems like an important requirement. Beyond that, it’s being grateful to wake up each day, to take another breath and know that you have a new chance to explore all of the wondrous things life has to offer. And it all starts with a choice.