IF ONLY — HOW YOUR WANDERING HEART IS RUINING YOUR LIFE

You stare at the scene, looking at picture after picture of the place your heart desires. If only, you think to yourself. Life would be so much better. So much different.

You’re saving up every penny, have been for awhile. Like Carl and Ellie from Pixar’s Up, you’ve got a jar sitting on your shelf collecting loose change. Or maybe it’s more intentional, a savings account or certificate of deposit. You go out to lunch less, watching as your coworkers or class mates tread out the door laughing, staring at your boxed lunch. It’s okay though, you whisper to yourself and go back to pictures of beaches and mountains. Because if only.

Maybe it’s California, New York City, Paris or Tokyo. Maybe it’s a country, or just a continent.

Maybe it’s not so specific, just a house with a view. A better neighborhood or city for you and your kids to have better opportunities.

Maybe it’s not a place at all, but that dream job you’ve wanted since high school. You got the right degree, got good grades, even took that awful unpaid internship — but found out your parents and high school guidance counselor lied — you can’t be whoever you want to be and do whatever you want to do. You hate your job, your coworkers, and especially your cubicle. But you haven’t given up on your dream. As you turn your lamp off and shut down your workstation, before you head to the parking garage, you picture yourself in that dream and whisper to yourself — if only.

Maybe it’s a person. They are amazing, gorgeous, brilliant, funny. They make your heart burn, not like a raging bonfire, but like the smoldering coals that come after. You think ahead, to what your kids might look like. You wonder where you’ll settle down together. You picture your future together.

Maybe it’s just a car that doesn’t break down every other month. Although it wouldn’t hurt to have a new Tesla/BMW/Audi/Subaru/whatever.

If only.

You make detailed lists. You picture it in your head before you go to sleep. The only joy in your life, the only real joy, is found in the preparation of the thing you’re waiting for. Your life is defined by the waiting, this moment between. You’re stuck in a valley, traveling between the high hills of life.

But it will be okay. Because if only.

By placing your happiness in the trust of binary outcomes that have 50/50 chances of becoming true in the first place you’re setting yourself up for misery.

Can I be honest? Your if only‘s are probably ruining your life. They are destroying your heart. By placing your happiness in the trust of binary outcomes that have 50/50 chances of becoming true in the first place you’re setting yourself up for misery. Because at least some, if not most of your if only’s will never come true in the first place.

And then there’s the even worse possibility. Your if only does come true, and it’s not as good as you expected it to be. You go on the adventure to the place of your dreams, and find out that the filtered and photoshopped pictures maybe gave it a little too much justice. Or it rains the whole time. Or your luggage gets stolen. Or you get sick. Or you just spend your whole trip eyes glued to your smartphone and completely miss the point.

The boss at the dream job actively tries to sabotage you and takes credit for your ideas.

The house you buy is infested with creepy crawlers. You marry the person of your dreams and find out they weren’t the person you thought they were. The new car is a lemon. The baby you’ve been wanting for years cries all. night. long.

If you filter the experience of your life through the metaphor of peaks and valleys you’re living life wrong. Your expectations are sabotaging your happiness — making you miss the majority of your life for a few select moments.

Whether your dreams never come true, they aren’t as good as you thought, or they just end — you’re going to be disappointed. If you filter the experience of your life through the metaphor of peaks and valleys you’re living life wrong. Your expectations are sabotaging your happiness — making you miss the majority of your life for a few select moments.

Your heart is a nomad, it keeps moving from city to city, job to job, from romantic partner to romantic partner, close friend to close friend, from one dream to another. It’s never satisfied, your parched lips never quenched, your eyes ever hungry for a new thing to behold. So that when you do receive your hearts desire it only gives you satisfaction for the night. Or month. Or year. But then you’re on, thirsting and hungering for new things and making new plans. The road beckons to you, but the horizon is never any closer. Still you keep journeying. Never satisfied by the view.

Why? Because no matter where you go, where you live, who you marry, where you work, or what else you change in your life — you bring your discontented heart with you everywhere. You keep changing the things outside your life, but things stay the same. Why? Because it’s the things inside that need to change.


At my previous job I had a supervisor named Bill. Bill had an amazing work-ethic. Which is my euphemism for being a workaholic. On top of being retired from the military, he worked two full-time jobs, and was counting down the days he could retire from both of those too. Every time I asked him how he was doing he would tell me about how much money he could make off of his retirement. How he was going to buy one of those huge camper vans and travel the country. He’d complain that his marriage was a farce, his kids living double lives. Yet day to day, he kept whispering to himself — if only — living for tomorrow and not realizing that his family needed him today.

There are millions like Bill. I’m not judging Bill, because I’m just like Bill. You are probably too. In fact I’m grateful that he and others like him in my life showed me the penalty of all my if only‘s. Thankfully I don’t have a family or anyone else relying on my happiness but me. The only person I’m hurting is myself.

And I do understand. America is a land measured by if only, built by immigrants who whispered to themselves if only. Today CEO’s tell a public with bated breath, if only; and we line up outside stores for weeks before a product launch, saying, if only; even though there’ll be a new if only with much the same features in 6 to 12 months. In America, if only is cheap.


Here’s to one last if only. If only we could stay. If only we could be content. If only we could live for today. If only we could see the treasure of the adventures to be had, here, now and in our city.

Let’s be honest. There are adventures to be had in our city, today. We can find fulfillment from the jobs we have today. Our possessions can enhance our lives, not define them. We can love the ones we love as they are to us today, not for who they might be tomorrow. For there are parts of our lives yet still unexplored.

It’s in these things that we are truly happy. For there is no greater day than today, no greater moment than now. For the glorious moments are not big, but small. The whispers of god are heard in the heartfelt “thank you” we receive for bringing a friend a coffee, or going out to lunch with friends — with laughter carried over fragrance of good food, or the silence of an untraveled place full of natural beauty.

The chorus to the song of life can’t be heard from the balcony of a sky-rise more than your crappy apartment. It’s notes don’t come from the engine high-performance sports car, but in the giggles of your kids in the back seat. It’s refrain isn’t heard in the “I do” you hear from your mate on a picture-perfect wedding altar, but all the “I do’s” that come after.

Am I saying give up on your dreams? Don’t toil for the future? Settle with an unhealthy relationship? Of course not. I’m saying don’t sacrifice today on the altar of tomorrow. That deal with the devil won’t ensure that they come true in the future, only that you’re miserable today. I’m saying you can have your cake and eat it too. I’m saying live for both today and tomorrow.

Photography by Volkan Olmez, Christian Holzinger, and Antoine Beauvillian. Retrieved from Unsplash.com and used under license. Originally published on my personal website — http://paynoattn.com/