“There is no safe way to be great. There is no great way to be safe.”

– Bob Anderson

If. It’s a very small word. Combine it with a few other words and it holds the power to raise you up or cut you to your core.

“What if….” holds the power of possibility and curiosity.

It brings out imagination and creativity. This is probably the most common phrase at the root of many inventions, companies, and discoveries.

It helps us move into the future by connecting us to what is happening now and imagining that something different is attainable. It builds confidence.

“If only….” holds regret and judgment.

It tears down our confidence. It keeps us rooted in the past to what could have been.

It’s easy to allow these regrets to build on one another. We get stuck in a different sort of imagination. One that tells us we weren’t good enough to make the right choice and we still can’t make the right choices going forward.

To avoid being in the state of “If only,” you have to embrace the “What if.”

There are no guarantees that the “What if” will turn out as you expected or hoped. Because “What if” is less about the actual outcome and more about the journey. Regardless of where you end up, you will be somewhere different.

“If only” keeps you stuck exactly where you are. And that’s part of the problem.

It’s familiar. You may not like where you are but it holds a level of certainty. And with certainty comes safety. Safety sounds like a good idea. And it is in many ways. But overdo safety and it becomes limiting.

Greatness does not exist in safety.

Greatness comes through curiosity and willingness to explore “What if.”

In all situations, you have a choice. To stay in the “If only” or choose to live into “What if …”

Try posing this question from both perspectives and see how it changes:

  • If only I spend more time with my kids while they are still young and at home.
  • What if I spend more time with my kids while they are still young and at home?

The first has a layer of guilt and doesn’t pose any type of change.  Yet the second question holds an air of possibility.

Try asking the questions below from both perspectives.  What do you notice changes when you do?

  • I spend more time with my parents now that I’m an adult and can understand them at a level I couldn’t as a child?
  • I started that business?
  • I said no to serving on yet another committee?
  • I took the time to really listen to the feedback from my team?
  • I did that one thing I’ve always longed to do?
  • I reached out to a friend I haven’t talked to in forever?

When these opportunities come along to explore your “What ifs,” they are a gift. They are the possible paths to avoiding regrets later in life.

But they’re also scary. They ask us to learn and grow. They ask us to choose. They ask us to abandon the safety of what we know.

Not every “What if” is meant to be followed. Some we are meant to say yes to and others we’re meant to turn down.

But perhaps the way to choose is by using the power of “If only.” To imagine yourself in the future and discern… what are the “If onlys” you hope to avoid?

Doing that allows you to see what holds meaning to you.  And, in turn, can give you the courage to say those things, therefore helping you avoid regrets later in life.

Which path will you choose?  “What if” or “If only?”

What If you choose to follow the path that excites and inspires you the most?