If I Only Knew Then What I Know Now…

“The world breaks everyone and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” – Ernest Hemingway


choosing a different ending

By Dawn Onley

“If only I knew then what I know now…”

This is a common refrain that I’ve heard people say and that I’ve uttered myself from time to time. The gist of the statement is that if only we could roll back time with the knowledge and understanding that we currently possess, we would make smarter decisions and would be in a better situation right now.

It’s an affirming thought. Soothing, even. It portends that we’ve actually learned some things and more importantly, that we would apply what we’ve learned, if we could go back in time. How we’d be richer, smarter, bolder, healthier if we had the chance at a do-over with the wisdom that we’ve attained through life’s ups and downs.

I’ve come to see these utterances as a bit of wishful thinking. The irony is, at the same time we make such pronouncements, we quite often are failing to apply it – even still. The same thing that made it so hard back then to do what we now convince ourselves that we would have done is the same thing that requires hard work, discipline, strategy, determination, perseverance, risk-taking and courage. Still.

This is what I mean:

If I only knew then what I know now, I would have saved more money back in my 20s. Except that we are not making any concessions now – years removed from our 20s – to change the way we spend and to actually increase our savings. How long have we been working on that six-month emergency fund, anyway?


I would have developed better eating habits if I knew that I would struggle with my diet later in life. Except that we still eat too many foods devoid of nutritional value and this is fast-tracking us to disease, even shortening our lives.

I would have been able to spot a no-good man/woman a mile away. Except that we have repeated this pattern many times over and are still grappling with this lesson.

I would have started my own company.

I would have taken the chance.

I wouldn’t have worried so much.

I would have finished school.

finished school

I would have taken life more/less serious.

I would have listened to my folks.

I would have gotten over my fears.

I would have learned how to …

Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda.

So here we are after all of these years, wiser in knowledge but in some cases still lacking in action.

Here’s a solution: Start today, where you are. Do your best. Be a person of your word. Push through when you feel like giving up. Forgive yourself. Earnestly learn the lessons from your past and then release the mistakes. Honor your journey. But create a new pattern.

Here’s the beauty of a new day: We get to work on what we don’t like. We get to rewrite some parts of our story.

“A really strong woman accepts the war she went through and is ennobled by her scars,” said Carly Simon.

We get to be brave.

I’m finding that the best way to truly determine what I would have done back then is to look at what I’m doing right now. Sobering, sure. But truthful.

I’m not staying stuck on this chapter. I’m choosing a different ending.

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