If

Johnson Babalola
Published:
June 18, 2023

It is said that hindsight is vision 2020 and that the university of life lessons is the best academic institution out there. I have asked many friends, clients, and others about the one word that they think about or mention often, and it is the word if.  The individuals that think about or mention this word often are mostly those in their 40s and upward. The older you are, the more the word becomes your thought or spoken companion. The word creeps into your conscious and subconscious as you experience things or you think about situations around you: If I knew, I would not have hired that contractor; if I knew, I would not have worked for that employer; if I knew, I would have had my children earlier or later in life; if I knew, I would not have disobeyed God; if I knew, I would not have put myself in the compromising position that led to my abuse; if I knew, I would have chosen a different profession; if I knew, I would have married the other guy or girl; if I knew I would have lived a healthy life; if I knew, I would not have allowed that person into my personal space; if I knew, I would not have gone into business with that person; if I knew, I would not have raised another person’s child; if I knew, I would have invested early in life to secure my retirement; if I knew, I would not have left my country;  if I knew, I would have….. the list is endless!.

For a week, I decided to experiment with the impact of this word on our lives by listening to the stories of life experiences shared by friends, relations, clients, and others. Individuals in their 30s and below should take a minute to ask the older ones around them about what they would have to say about the word if and its place in their journeys through life.

Here are some “If” stories shared with me by those I spoke with:

Education and Training: I was encouraged and pleaded with by my parents to stay focused at school or learn a trade. I refused to listen. Rather, I followed the dictates of my friends at the time who today are not there for me in my struggles to make ends meet. Some are successful while others are not. If only I had listened, things would have been better for me today.

Spousal Abuse: They all saw it coming but I was in denial. As we dated, he would call me names. He had no respect for me and would make me feel very little. They all advised me to leave him, but I refused. I was in love. To me, they did not want the best for me. How could they not see that he was handsome and would apologize to me each time he abused me?. Upon marriage, I became his punching bag. Yet I stayed, hoping he would change. I lost a tooth, lost my self-esteem, and lost myself too. Then I started listening to the words of wisdom and courage. I found support and after 9 years of abuse, I finally gained my freedom. If I had listened, I would have left him earlier and avoided the many years of abuse and agony.

Poor Health: I abused everything I could abuse, from alcohol to cigarette and drugs, and I thought I was having fun. The warnings came from my family, friends, and health professionals but they fell on deaf ears. I thought I was in control and would be ok. I stopped visiting my doctor for medical checkups because I was not interested in hearing the truth about myself. Then reality struck. I got diagnosed with all kinds of medical conditions. Today, I live in pain and with the fear of leaving my loved ones early. If I had taken my health seriously, maybe things would have been different for me today.

Relocation Plus: I was stuck in my country and my condition worsened. I spent 7 years in university for a program that should have taken me 3 years due to no fault of mine. Lecturers were always on strike. I had no access to modern technology to advance my knowledge and I had no access to functioning infrastructure and healthcare. Post graduation, I had no roadmap to finding employment. There were millions like me. Then the opportunity came to relocate to a western country. The relocation has changed my life forever. I took advantage of the available first-class education and landed a dream job thereafter. I now have access to the basic things of life. I can truly say that I am now living and making positive contributions to my new country. If I had remained in my old country, I would have wasted, and my generation would have probably wasted too.

Wrong Investments: I thought I was securing my future and the future of others by investing in certain businesses and people. My finance, time, energy, knowledge, and all I had were spent on these twins: business and people. Sadly, I got burnt by both. The business failed for many reasons that years later, I was able to address and make a success of. As for the people, I learnt to avoid investing in selfish and self-centered individuals. Only if I knew this earlier.

Absenteeism: I was never there for my family as I was pulled by other things: the interest in politics and the search for money, friends, fame, religion and many more. As I sit back today, and hear about the deaths of many who had spent their lives investing their time in money, fame, friends and so on while they neglected their family, I ask why? The only true peace you have in your old age is to be surrounded by loved ones including cohesive family members that truly care and show they do. If only I knew this earlier, I would not be sitting here alone … without my family.

The Right Person: As we courted, I saw her faults, but I thought she would change with time. We talked about it but each time, I would convince myself that it was nothing. With years gone by, I keep asking myself daily if I had made a mistake. I dread going home because I am just not happy in the relationship. Her sharp tongue is a weapon of destruction, and she ensures she assaults me with it on a regular basis. She talks down on me and makes me feel little. She has refused to listen to words of counsel. If only I had listened to my uncle who told me as I started dating in life to ensure I checked all my expectations in a relationship, discuss them with whoever I decided to date and avoid characters that would cause me agony in future.    

Procrastination: I have always wanted that position as I am tired of being at the bottom of my professional ladder. But then, I needed to invest time to obtain a certain certification first. For 10 years, I would take one step forward and three backward. I would always have a justification for my lack of actions. I watched today as someone who graduated 15 years after me was offered a position I had longed for. I realized that I lost it because I have not taken further steps to reach my goals. If I had addressed my mind to my own procrastination, I would have made some progress. However, it is never late, and I am determined to make a difference in my own life.

Separation: We were not compatible at all. So, I thought at the time. We engaged in comparing our home and relationship with others. The grass was always greener on the other side. Tired of the relationship, we went our separate ways. Thereafter, I enjoyed my peace. Being alone was beautiful. I got to do my own thing as I wanted to. I was in full control of my life. I started dating but they were different. The relationships did not last. I became lonely. Where are the friends that encouraged me to move on with my life? I realized I should have watered my own grass and made it better. I also realized I had an equal hand in all that happened and that I should have done better. Only if I knew then.

Keeping Secrets: Keep things to yourself, I was told by my parents. Don’t let your right hand know what your left hand was doing. My mom would remind me all the time. Great advice that I took to heart and would not share anything about myself with anyone. I would focus on seeking employment alone. I would face my health challenges alone and would never discuss my struggles with anyone. But I was not progressing. I had no mentor and lacked direction. I did not have a confidante and did not have the input of others into my struggles. Of course, trust was an issue for me as I feared being betrayed. But then things changed, and I met someone at work who has been God sent. I now network too. If only I had known earlier that with the right people and support, a problem shared is a problem solved, I would have embraced healthy relationships with others and built trust with them.  

Public Opinion: For years, my actions and lack of actions were driven by what others would say. From a big house to a small house to conserve money? What will people say?. Get separated from an abusive or toxic relationship? What will people say?. Decision to focus on family rather than unimportant things? What will people say? Divest from a business relationship for best practice reasons? What will people say?. If only I can focus on what is best for me without focusing on what others would say, I will be in a better place.

Banking on Others: I was always of the thought that based on my investments in my children over the years especially after the death of their father, they would take care of me. They were my only focus. I put my life on hold for them. I refused to date or get into any relationships. I never thought the children would become adults one day and move on to do their own things. Today, they are living in different countries with their families, and I remain alone. If I knew what I know now, I would have balanced my focus on them with a focus on my life too.

Your If and My If:  Our ifs might be similar but are ultimately different. However, we can learn from each other’s ifs and how to navigate through them. It is never late to look your ifs in the eyes and make a positive outcome out of them. Whatever your if is, identify it, analyze it, seek for counsel about it within a trusted space, take steps to address it and take actions to resolve it decisively. There is a saying that it is okay to wake up late; but not okay to wake up late and do nothing.

Johnson Babalola, a Canada and Nigeria based lawyer, leadership consultant, storyteller and corporate emcee, is a public affairs analyst. Follow him for discussions on real life issues that affect us all.

You can obtain a copy of his newly released book, REJECTED on Amazon, FriesenPress, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Play, Apple Books, Nook Store etc.