by Annette Bridges. ©2008. All rights reserved.

How many of your decisions and actions are interrupted or halted by “what ifs”? Perhaps you’re like me and feel your life has been outlined too much by this often daunting question.My family and I went to Disney World in Florida a few weeks ago when Hurricane Gustav was heading toward Cuba and Tropical Storm Hanna was forming in the Atlantic. My husband, who is generally the voice of caution, proposed a “what if” question before we left —“What if Gustav or Hanna hit Florida during the dates we’ve planned for our trip? Maybe we should cancel.”

I just couldn’t cancel a trip we had planned for many months based on a “what if” synopsis. I reasoned that “if” we had to cut our trip short at some point, then we were capable of adapting our plans to do whatever was necessary or needed at any given moment.

So we went. And as it turned out, rain never dampened our activities, and the cloudy days and cooler temperatures were a welcome relief.

There have been many other times when I have belabored over the question — “What if I’m making a mistake?” I’ve agonized over this possibility to the point of becoming paralyzed by fear and consequently accomplishing nothing. This has been true for countless job opportunities that I’ve not taken — some of which I regret not taking to this day.

Certainly when trying to make a decision, we should always consider the consequences of every action — so some “what if” questioning is a good thing. But in the end, we do need to act. I suppose as with everything in our lives, there is a proper balance between questioning, analyzing and doing.

Have you ever wanted to know what might have happened if you had taken a different direction, perhaps asking, “What if I had known then what I know now?” This is usually another question that only leads to one conclusion — regret. I travel down this path when I start ruminating about the college major I didn’t choose or the law degree I didn’t pursue.

It seems “what if” is also one of the tantalizing questions in American history. Historians are often intrigued with contemplating what might have been for many defining moments in our history. And so they create in essence — alternate history.

“What if…?” is even the title of several comic book series published by Marvel Comics that explore “the road not traveled” by its various characters.

However, I’m not really certain what good is accomplished by creating “what if” histories since we can’t go back in time and change outcomes. We probably always know best with hindsight.

What does seem more beneficial is imagining “what if” scenarios for the future. I like the idea of being a visionary — a person who has the ability to imagine the infinite possibilities and to conceive how to make what at first seems impossible, possible.

So I think perhaps the most helpful “what if” questioning is when one is dreaming of what to do in one’s life. The range of ideas are endless when we start picturing our future from a “what if” basis without limitations or restrictions.

Perhaps “what if” questions do have their proper place and purpose in our lives —especially when they help mold our decisions into wise and productive steps forward.

Being an election year, I can’t help but wonder — What if every American voted?

But recently, I’ve been envisioning some “what if” prospects for myself…

What if I’m not too old?

What if I could do whatever I wanted with the rest of my life?

What if I knew I couldn’t fail? What would I do?

This kind of “what if” thinking is giving me the encouragement I’ve needed to replace fear and uncertainty with the courage and assurance of success. I can’t help but think of Paul’s words, “Behold, now is the accepted time.” (II Corinthians 6:2) One definition of accepted is preferred. So now — not later — is the preferred time.

My “can do” attitude is gaining confidence. Now I only need turn my answers into actions!