Pluck Off Dead Parts to Let New Ones Bloom

Lost Possible Selves — On the pains and freedom of coming to terms with all the persons I could have been. For all that is lost in their life choices, failed relationships, and other regrets.

Gertrude Abarentos
6 min readAug 7, 2020
Photo by JoergK. Photography from Pexels

To shift or not to shift? To transfer or to just drop out? These are the questions that fizzed around my head for my entire college sophomore year and the being quarantined this summer certainly helped them grace into ear-piercing whispers, stirring the gnawing pain as I wake up and approach each horizon with the realization that I am not on the journey of becoming the person I once aspired to be or as researchers King and Raspin (2004) named it, my “Lost Possible Self.” Heart wrenchingly defined in their study, “representations of the self in the future, which might have once held the promise of positive affect, but which are no longer a part of a person’s life.”

I am writing this 2 days away before my junior year enrollment in a course I am unsure of taking the career paths it promises. And having to decide whether to register as a 3rd-year student with this program comes with the cognitive stress of asking the what-ifs. With the amount of time investment it entails, I would like to call entering 3rd year as “the point of no return” meaning that if I continue, I should no longer consider shifting, transferring, or dropping out.

It is not that I am succumbing to “faking it ’til I make it” because of the dogma of going and finishing college just because it is a “requirement” in one’s life to get that diploma by this age but rather, a hit to myself in the head that I am wasting my time and emotional and mental energy being lost in the array of options I can possibly pursue because I feel like the grass is greener in another version of life. It hinders me from seeing and appreciating the beauty of my craft, abilities, and current life in general. It is also a reminder that I am in control of my decisions and the responsibilities I take in. Learning to own up my regretted decisions and end the cycle of rumination about the paths I was not able and continue to not to take.

It has become a torture for me and my relationships as I continue to “live” these multiple selves, and consequently exist like a miserable ghost to the one that truly matters — the present one. Best explained in the psychological phenomenon by Soviet psychologist Bluma Wulfovna Zeigarnik called “The Zeigarnick Effect” (1938) that indicates the tendency for people to remember incomplete goals/tasks better than those that have been completed. Which, in King & Raspin’s (2004) analysis of the links of Lost Possible Selves and Subjective Well Being argues that the frustrating thoughts of having these “unfinished business” is a determinant of lowered psychological well-being involved with decreased life satisfaction and increased depression. Klinger’s (1975, as mentioned in King & Raspin, 2004) examination of the effects of obstructed goals on thought and behavior demonstrates that the inability to detach oneself from unattainable goals correlates to depressive symptoms (reduced daily goal functioning and heightened psychological distress) due to expending daily thought and emotion about the failure to fulfill.

Learning about this occurrence is somewhat consoling and illuminated how to process the loss of something that did not materialize in the first place. The study of Lost and Found Possible Selves, Subjective Well-Being, and Ego Development in Divorced Women of King & Raspin (2004) encourages us that while facing the discomfort of these thoughts makes us unhappy, our maturity requires us to concede our losses and the limitations in adulthood. We must learn to admit that we cannot have all that we want and everything that we choose to take will always have a cost: the possibility of losing it, hurting from it, and disappointment by it. As succinctly written by Mark Manson in Everything is F*cked (2019):

“The only true form of freedom, the only ethical form of freedom, is through self-limitation. It is not the privilege of choosing everything you want in your life, but rather, choosing what you will give up in life…… Ultimately, the most meaningful freedom in your life comes from your commitments, the things in life for which you have chosen to sacrifice.”

Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

The restraints of maturity ironically provide freedom as it comes with the capability to ride with our choices in the vast road of other journeys dismissed. Alongside, we gain the ability to welcome imperfections, the wrongness of our assumptions, violations in our expectations, and humanity in general (King & Raspin, 2004) as we no longer hope for better or more or another, but see and greet with hospitality what is, making the best out of anything that happens.

“My formula for greatness in a human being is Amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it — all idealism is mendacity in the face of what is necessary — but love it.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

It is effortless to replay the past and visualize the future. But the thing is, I will never know what could have been if I turned some other ways in the past or the future will never be as definite as the glimpses of my imagination tell me so because they, at the moment, do not exist. They are nothing but presumed realities that failed to transpire; thus something I have to wake up from. And I will never know if the choices I am right now making is a mistake or — I could not express it any better than how Lily Aldrin said it in How I Met Your Mother:

“OK, yes it’s a mistake. I know it’s a mistake, but there are certain things in life where you know it’s a mistake but you don’t really know it’s a mistake because the only way to really know it’s a mistake is to make the mistake and look back and say ‘yep, that was a mistake”

To flourish, I have to, once and for all, acknowledge, mourn, to bid farewell to these lost possible selves, from possible careers to possible relationships and to all the possible versions that did not work and is presently not working. To unchain myself from their weight and start fully living the path I continue to choose to live for, or if the cosmos allow, to liberate space for some new possible selves.

“Lost and found possible selves may be viewed as reflections of the interaction of life experiences and more enduring needs and values. A lifetime may be viewed as a process of actively discovering one’s ‘‘true’’ wants and needs. The content of a person’s life dreams is subject to revision. These changes have implications for well-being and personality development. While investing in the present and not looking back relates to heightened happiness, how and when we look back on the selves we’ve lost or forsaken along the way relates to personality development. These results resonate with Henry Murray’s (1938) oft-quoted phrase ‘‘The history of the organism is the organism.’’ A history devoid of loss is only part of a history. A larger understanding of our place in the world requires a more expansive view that allows for legitimate loss, an awareness of what might have been, and the capacity to reinvest and risk loss once again.” — King and Raspin (2004) conclusions, Lost and Found Possible Selves

Cheers to living lightly but more. Now let’s make ourselves bloom.



Gertrude Abarentos

WRITER for UNDERSCORE | Creating something means imagining it and not imagining the world without it. We’re all telling a story, what’s your medium?