08/14/2013 03:49 pm ET Updated Oct 14, 2013

Why Do We Want What We Don't Have?

I encountered an emotion Monday morning that I haven't felt in some time: jealously. A real pang of it... the kind where my gut churned and the flush of my cheeks turned a proper shade of green. The most embarrassing part is that it occurred when I saw my dear friend walking her dog.

If this were a movie, now would be the time to cut to a flashback of earlier that morning -- beginning at 5:00 a.m., I start on work email, after cancelling yet another trip to the gym, dropping off my eldest son late for his job as a camp counselor, getting caught up in a major scheduling mishap involving a three-way conference call and then dropping my other son -- also late -- to a different camp before having to rush home where I had 30 minutes to pack (while on the rescheduled conference call) before heading to the airport to catch a flight to Brazil.

Ext. Quiet street. Morning: I'm driving (too) quickly as I happen to pass my friend and her dog. I look at her longingly (and lovingly) walking her cute little white-haired four legged friend. Despite my speedy driving, the image of my friend lingered. She looks adorable with her hair up -- my friend, not the dog -- happy and relaxed. She's in great shape, wearing comfortable exercise clothes that showoff her toned arms as the morning sun hit her just right. For that moment, the only thing I can think of was how I wish that could be me.

A bit later, when I finally made it on the plane, imagine my surprise -- and irony -- in seeing the headline of The New York Times Magazine that I had carefully saved (though not looked at from the day before):

"Mid-career Time Out (Is Over); A Decade After They Opted Out of Their Careers, Mothers Reflect on the Choice They Made and What it Cost Them."

I encourage all to read the article. It made me think about how women -- and, frankly, all of us -- often look at each other and see a path better taken, lined with nothing but greener grass. How we spend time wondering what if we had chosen a different path. How we can look at someone else wondering, if somehow, somewhere, we went wrong.

I know moms who work who wish they had stayed at home and moms who stayed at home who, like the article states, wish they could have another shot at their career. I know some divorced people who want desperately to be married and some married people who, frankly, would rather be divorced. Sort of like my naturally curly hair, as I, now realize the vast majority of people who comment on the likability of my curls are primarily people with straight hair. And, not surprisingly, all the while I look wistfully at their straight locks.

I recently moderated a panel at the MGM's Women's Leadership Conference in Las Vegas where I asked the three impressive and highly successful women panelists to imagine they were sitting in the audience 15 years ago. What do they wish they would have known then that they know now? One woman's answer stuck with me.

"The guilt. Give it up," said Kathleen Ciaramello, president, National FoodService, Coca-Cola Refreshments, recounting how when her daughter graduated, she gave her a note telling her what a great mom she had been. She thought to herself and shared with the audience, "What a waste of time. All that time I wasted feeling guilty was useless. Lose the guilt."

Good advice. So I'm passing it along. Whichever path we chose, it was the right one. Whichever path we choose moving forward, we will find ways to feel guilty... but we shouldn't. What we should feel is supportive of each other choices. Nobody has it all, and, frankly, no one should.

These days, I like to say I'm living my life backwards... doing things that I should have done when I was younger. It's messy sometimes and imperfect often, but I wouldn't trade it for anything or anyone else's.

Whatever I try next, it's likely that I'll be doing it without a pet, manicure or comfortable exercise clothes... and of course, most likely, with curly hair. But I'll have lots of friends and colleagues who, because of their different choices, will make me better; I can only hope that I can do the same for them. I don't know what the future holds, but I know it won't hold any regrets, and maybe that's the only thing worthy of anyone's envy.

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