Of Time Travel, Forks in the Road, and Knowing Thyself

Posted by Mike Kaaks

25 March 2022

When we look back on our lives we can see many sliding door moments or as I prefer to label them, forks in the road. I've just watched a clever and enjoyable movie about time travel. What if you could go back in time and pick the alternative fork to the one you took?. Which one would you choose to change? I say one because of course in the spirit of such films that change would mean all your life after that moment would change and other than a script writer or an author, who knows how that story would play out?

As my reflections went further it became clear that there is a value in pursuing such fantasy. Identifying which one you would change requires introspection. Which one has the has the chance to provide personal awareness that resolves the things that have and may still lead to doubt. Those who know me are well aware that I love pointing out moments of synchronicity. Two days after the genesis of these thoughts I was with a friend and former business colleague – he raised the subject of doubt, bringing a connected practical view to my fantasy. Forgiveness not permission. Things I have written about before in here. I then knew I was onto something here. Back to the question; at which fork would you change direction?

Spotting these fork-in-the-road moments in my history was quite easy at first but then I realised that like so much of life, there is a subtlety here and some are not so brash and easy to spot. My first major fork was at the age of nine months. Mum and Dad decided to migrate from the Netherlands to Australia. Had we followed the other fork and remained Dutch I would have grown up with grandparents, aunties and uncles, and cousins being an immediate part of my life rather than being informed by seeing the world as a place of friends and acquaintances. Thank goodness for the emergence of travel and technology post the mid ‘80s as it has enabled be to build the familial connections. But by then many of the older generations, my parents included, had passed on, all of which left many questions about my forebears unanswerable. What if I flicked switch on that first choice? It would undoubtedly bring a comforting self-awareness that would be part of all my life beyond that changed moment.

What other moments might I choose to change in place of that first one? I mentioned the existence of forks that were a little harder to spot. What if the roles I had in high school and the feedback of a number of analyses had left me with a confident realisation that I could make a greater difference than I had accepted as my reality? Which one of those would I change. How would that change my life. Unlike my first example and its impact on my familial place in the world, this change would affect the differences I have made to others.

I see the dichotomy of these two choices about what to change through one of my favourite lenses – our Being and our Doing. Whilst the second example would clearly affect what I have done in my life, it is primarily about my being. Certainty in place of doubt. Knowing myself deeply.

 You can't change the past, so why ruminate on such thoughts? I don't want to change the past, it's the lesson of the past that I'm talking about here which answers questions like what has made me who I am today? And what if I chose the fork that learnt the lesson of the moment, showing me who I was? You might be thinking that I’m flagellating myself here and you’d be right. There is a frustration in this exercise. And yet it has a reward. For me it has reinforced the importance of Know Thyself – I have a repertoire of examples of forks in my road that would have been travelled differently had my self-awareness been stronger. That in turn means that for others, specifically those I coach and with whom I collaborate, I am reinforced and reinvigorated in helping them see what the clarity of self-awareness will do for them.  

Whilst this is a teaching moment for me it is clearly not a new thing. The philosopher Socrates famously declared that the unexamined life was not worth living. Know Thyself. gnothi sauton. The internet abounds with You Tube pieces on the topic and there are books enough to fill libraries. All of which leads me to one more fork in my road. What if I was not guided to a STEM course in my final years of high school but in place of that I studied biology, history, and anthropology? Only a fiction writer can answer that. And yet my ruminations can see what the simple asking of that question helps me to know myself a little better.