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How to Survive an Attack of the Never-Dids

Hugging goodbye

Sometimes there’s no such thing as finished.

One of the hardest parts of an ending—whether it’s the end of a relationship, a job (or a whole career), or your residence in a home or city—is the knowledge and acceptance that this will have been it.

When you’re going—really going—a particular insidious voice can show up in your head. I call this voice the Never-Dids.

“But I never finished…”

“But I/we never got to…”

“But I haven’t gotten this perfect yet.”

When there’s always a tomorrow in that place, job, or relationship, there’s always a possibility to do better, to complete more, to enjoy or experience more, to perfect and hone.

When tomorrow will find you somewhere new…that’s when the Never-Dids come out to play.

 

Leaving a Career: “This was my teaching.” 

There’s a certain acceptance process that comes with leaving a job—or a career—in which you’ve invested a lot of time, energy, and care.

When I made the decision to leave the classroom after nine years as a teacher, the Never-Dids came out in full force.

My last few weeks were very emotional.

Well, duh.

But as I reflected on and worked through the transition process, I realized that part of the emotional impact was due to the realization: “This was my teaching.”

I had to accept that I had done what I was going to do.

There were some parts I never mastered; some goals I never achieved; some bad habits I never conquered (that messy desk!!!!).

Leaving meant letting go of the image I had of one day doing it all, getting it all just right.

Then there were the kids I’d never teach…the curricula I’d never develop…the professional conversations and meetings I wouldn’t participate in…the new teachers and parents I wouldn’t meet.

I knew leaving would be hard for all kinds of reasons—but nobody warned me about the Never-Dids.

 

Leaving a Place: “This was my London.”

When I was in college, I studied in London for part of my junior year.

I took advantage of the incredible opportunity that it was—but when it was time to leave, I felt the Never-Dids acutely. I remember so clearly my last few days in the city.

I had planned to take so many day trips, to go to every museum.

Leaving meant accepting: “This was my London.”

That last week, I walked around and looked down all of the streets I’d never walked, and looked at the advertisements for plays I wouldn’t see.

I pulled out my A to Z street guide and flipped through it. It was full of Never-Dids.

 

Leaving a Relationship: “This was us.”

The Never-Dids attack fiercely during breakups.

Ending a relationship, many people suffer with thoughts of the plans made but now unkept—the movies we were going to see together, restaurants we were going to try, trips we were going to take.

Knowing and accepting that “this was our us” can be extraordinarily challenging.

We imagine ourselves doing all of the things we’ve envisioned. Whether or not the other person even knows we’d envisioned them, these Never-Dids can take on a huge weight as we picture—in the words of the magnificent Magnetic Fields—“the things we did and didn’t do.”

In breakups, sometimes the visions of the Never-Dids haunt us as much as the visions of the Dids.

—–

Here are a few steps to help you handle an attack of the Never-Dids.

1. Notice.

Increase your awareness and notice when you’re having an attack of the Never-Dids.

When we’re dealing with strong emotions, sometimes just stepping back to take stock and identify the nuances of what’s causing them can be really validating, and ultimately calming.

2. Acknowledge and accept that this is a normal and predictable part of a transition.

If you have any positive feelings at all about the job, place, or person you’re leaving, you are likely to deal with some Never-Dids.

Know this: an attack of the Never-Dids is not an indicator that you’re doing the wrong thing. It just means you’re having a normal human reaction to a major life shift. 

3. Reflect.

Celebrate the Dids.

Realize that even if you stay forever, you will never do all the Never-Dids.

That’s the amazing thing about life. There’s always more, until there isn’t.

And the same will be true in your new endeavors.

4. Refocus.

Rather than focus on the potential untapped in what will soon be the past, choose to focus on the potential around the corner, in the future job, city, or relationship you haven’t even tasted yet.

Shine your attention on the “Get-Tos” as you look forward to things you’ll get to experience that you wouldn’t have if you weren’t making this leap.

5. Know that some of the Never-Dids may someday turn into Dids after all.

When I left the classroom, I thought I was really leaving my work to help parents and children deal with social challenges. I couldn’t have predicted that I’d be able to continue helping them in a totally different way, by teaching resilience seminars and classes, and coaching parents all over the place to use the approaches I developed in my teaching.

The things you’re leaving may serve you later and be reborn in a way you could never predict.

—–

The next time the Never-Dids show up for you, you can greet them, process them, and move on. And get ready for all your future Dids.

Do you have a great Never-Did story? What do you do when the Never-Dids attack? Tell us in the comments.

Photo by Seth Werkheiser

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There are 4 comments. Add yours.

  1. Julie

    This is a fantastically helpful post, Carrie. When we (I guess I’m using the editorial “we” here) reach our mid-sixties, regrets about what we’ve omitted from our life experiences can come especially fast and furious because we don’t have as much time left to get to the “dids” and we have a lot MORE time to look back at the “never-dids”! I’ll keep your steps in mind and hope to focus more on the “dids” of the past and the “will have dones” of the future.

    • Thanks for your insight and perspective, Julie! It’s so interesting to think and learn about how these concepts look and feel different at various life stages..

  2. Rachel

    A time in my life when I experienced something very much akin to the Never-Dids — more along the lines of “I’ll-Never-Get-to-Dos” — was when my twins were babies. I was so regretful about all the experiences I would never have as a parent because I had two at once (they can seem minor, but when you are in the throes of new parenthood, they seem big, such as not being able to put your (one) baby in a sling and go for a nice walk, or sit holding your (one) baby that has fallen asleep in your lap, etc.). One day a random thought flashed across my mind: “This is my life story writing itself.” Okay, that sounds totally grandiose, but it did help me to step back and think, “These are the things that ARE happening to me. I can’t live every life at once, and this is the specific, unique way that my life is playing out.” Does that make sense? Anyway, it was a fleeting moment of clarity where I think I was seeing my situation much the way you recommend looking at an attack of the Never-Dids. It was very helpful.

    • Rachel, thanks so much for sharing your story. It can be so hard when the reality doesn’t match the picture–even if the reality is wonderful in its own way…but it’s OURS. LOVE the, “This is my life story writing itself.” It makes perfect sense. And I can totally relate to “I can’t live every life at once.” A moment of awesome acceptance. (Wouldn’t it be fun to be able to hit pause sometimes and run out and live an alternate story?!)

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