I chatted with a woman in a coffee shop the other day. I could see the frustration in her face.

I’ve spent my entire adult life for everybody else. I married out of college, took care of my husband, started a family and took care of the kids. When my parents got sick, I stepped up to the plate. Then my husband’s parents too. Everybody has had a piece of me. Screw the midlife crisis; I just want ME back. I want to feel good about myself. I’ve always come in second; I want FIRST for a change. I want my health, I want to feel passionate about something, I want to do something, just for me. Is that so wrong?

I couldn’t argue with her. I agreed.

It isn’t wrong to want to put yourself first. I too had felt that same agony of wanting more and not quite sure what to do.

But here’s the thing I discovered when I went on my own quest for a better life. A better life isn’t something any one of us can get.

What Is A Better Life?

For most of us, we’re taught that something better is achievable. We focus on it. We set goals. We accomplish steps. We’re rewarded at the end.

If you get involved with martial arts, you’re rewarded with different colored belts along the way.

If you go to school, you’re rewarded with a degree.

We’ve even started giving prizes, ribbons, and trophies simply for being present. Talk about setting ourselves up for expecting rewards as a part of the end process.

We also live by the two-hour rule. Every problem can be solved in two hours – just watch your favorite movie or television show. They set us up by giving us a problem, working out the details, and solving it to completion in the allotted time. Any longer and we grow weary.

No wonder we’re bored with our own lives. By fifty, we’ve had way too many two-hour time frames to count, and all we’re left with is a whole lot of questions.

What do all of these things in life have in common? They have an ending point. And once we hit midlife, we define “ending point” in an entirely different way. We have a lot of past to think about. We have regrets. We have wishes and dreams we never explored.

And that hurts. Especially when we see what’s around us. Parents getting older. Our kids leaving home. Maybe even starting families of their own.

We want more!

Why We Have A Choice

See, the problem is we’re focused on the finish line. And at midlife, we can fall into a pit of despair when we think about what the finish line really could mean. Maybe health isn’t where it could be. Maybe relationships have waned. Maybe your kids are far away. Maybe your job sucks – you just want to scream.

We start to focus on the past. The things we have. The things we THOUGHT we’d have. And it can drive us a little mad. Especially when you start glorifying all the things that are missing.

What if … I’d chosen the other guy.

What if … I’d taken the other job.

What if … we’d waited to have kids.

What if … we’d moved when we had the chance.

What if … we hadn’t risked so much money.

The what ifs go on and on.

Stop.

Because a better life is still an option. In fact, it’s now more of a possibility than ever before.

Because right now you have all of that experience behind you, and it’s enough to help you recognize what direction you should choose.

Let’s go back and explore some of the “what ifs” from above.

What if … I’d chosen the other guy. Your life would be different, but not necessarily better. There was a reason you made the decision you did. And you learned a lot since that time. Use that to move forward from here. What if … I got out of this relationship that no longer feeds me? What if … I meet someone new? What if … I’m a better me all by myself? What if … I have more love and respect for myself by walking away?

What if … I’d taken the other job. You’d currently be in a different position. Maybe you would have loved your career, maybe you’d already have moved on to something new. You are in your current job for a reason; what have you learned? How can you take those skills and move forward? Do you need more flexibility, more time, more money? What if … I try for a promotion? What if … I go back to school? What if … I start in a new career?

Better is a choice. But you have to look forward from where you are today, rather than forward through the eyes of where you used to be.

I make this sound easy. Trust me; it isn’t. But once you start looking at your future from today’s eyes rather than from your past, you’ll get excited about your opportunity.

Facing an empty nest is difficult. I know. And I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, especially as my daughter lived with us after switching schools, and came home while job hunting.

But empty nest has allowed me to build more “me time” into my schedule – and not feel guilty about it. That’s opened up endless possibilities.

I think we all want to be better. I think we all want to be the best we can be.

If you’re in a position of looking back with regret, change it around, so you look forward with opportunity.

Instead of asking “what if” questions about what might have been, ask what if questions about what could be.

It’s a choice. You have to be intentional to make it so. It’s something I’ll be working on every day for the rest of my life. That’s what it takes for a better life.

What are you doing to build a better life?