What was the worst mistake or decision you have ever made in life? What could you have done differently?
An interesting topic for a writing prompt, and one that requires a good bit of thinking.
We all have things that we regret. Some more than others, and some less. And myself, I often say that so far, I have no regrets whatsoever. That, in and of itself, is not a lie. I may not have liked learning some life lessons the hard way – as I learned most of them – but I could’ve had them come to me a lot worse. A lot worse. There are some things I wish I had never learned about life, but as a whole, I do not regret anything. Not proud of certain things either, but such is the great kaleidoscope that life tends to be.
But really, there are a couple of things that I regret having to go through. Not the lessons that came out of those experiences, no. The lessons are and remain invaluable. But the way I learned them, I could’ve really done without.
Cut for waxing personal.
1. Going to college the first time at 18.
You probably didn’t expect this one out of me. But I’ll explain why this is, hands down and bar none, my number-one regret.
Let’s begin with the person I was when I was 18. I grew up in a not-so-good environment, and my mother was working – a lot – and was really not around as much at the time. The one thing I grew up hearing, which stuck with me for a long time and contributed directly to being a complete workaholic now, was that I would be nothing worthwhile without a “money-making” career. The whole “happy with what you do” part of things wasn’t really important. That I learned on my own later, but digressing. That was me at 18, finishing high school, applying to college to….do what? I knew one thing from the first time I drew breath: I was going to be a writer. I also knew I had to pay the bills somehow. But I also thought, above all, that if I was going to go to college, I would’ve rather studied what I wanted to: history, psychology, and writing. And I have studied that independently and on my own since I was 14.
There was still the matter of, “What are you going to do to pay the bills?” but I’m getting there.
I went for criminal-justice because Pace University’s pre-law program was on the other campus, upstate. My parents dangled the carrot of financial aid in front of me, and while I was undecided, it at least kept me from going insane as far as how I was going to pay tuition (which, back then, was still semi-reasonable, compared to what Pace costs today). I started working immediately and supported myself as much as a work-study salary allowed, but the split-second I declared a major, and that major was not in compliance with my father’s ideas about success, whether or not they had any realistic basis, the dangling carrot was replaced with, “Bitch, you’re on your own.”
And so I was. I was racking up student loan debt at an alarming rate by the time I graduated, and it wasn’t until I was 21, a college senior, and freshly done with my first book that I realized I was never going to use the degree that I was working towards finishing. I won’t lie that I got off easy; I was not a resident student on campus until my senior year. Some grads from Pace have $200K in student loans that they, thanks to the economic bell curve, have no hope of paying back before they turn fifty. I got off easy, way easy. But the economic part of things is not the real reason I regret going to Pace.
The truth of the matter is, I was not ready to just lock myself in and declare, “This is what I will be studying in order to do this for the rest of my life.” and then proceed to go down the path I had originally set up in college. No way in hell was I ready. I knew I had to have a career out of practical considerations, but at 18, when I was happy enough to just be out of high school and no longer be embarrassed to be myself, there was no way in hell that I could’ve said, “This is what I’m going to do with my life.” That’s not realistic. Yes, I knew what I wanted to do, and what I had to do, but I also knew nothing of what was outside of the schoolroom and what was outside of the house. I was too scared of things at home, at the time, to really question and explore for myself. The most exploring I did back then was getting into jazz. And that I still say was the best day’s work I’ve ever done.
I would’ve done a lot better – a lot! better – if I would’ve started working instead of going to college, whether at a trade or something else, but anything to just have a little time to learn about the world for myself. If I would’ve known at 18 that I was going to end up working for a CPA, and if I would’ve known that I would be messing with bookkeeping and numbers for the rest of my life, I would’ve waited a little bit, and gone for the CPA as my first and only degree. It would’ve saved me 60K in debt, at least. The books would’ve happened. The music would’ve happened. The photography would’ve happened. But it all would’ve taken place without the mountain of student loans at my back and the constant worry of where the next payment would be coming from. It would’ve happened on my terms.
2. Marriage and divorce
It’s a long story, and personal enough for me to not go into detail. I was married at 19, divorced at 21, and the only thing that this had taught me was that not only am I not the marrying kind, but I severely detested the idea of being part of a “nuclear family”. Really. I did not like children since being a child myself. I had absolutely no inclination to have any of my own; in fact, I had my tubes tied after the divorce, and that stands as the absolute best decision I’ve ever made for my life. So being in a marriage where my then-husband began insisting that I didn’t know what I was talking about when I said I didn’t want to reproduce…well, I’m sure you can imagine how that sat well with me. It was the primary reason why I left him.
I only wish it didn’t take me that experience to learn that lesson. Some people just are not built for settling down. I’m a loyal friend, and can handle long-term relationships, but the one thing I absolutely hate is being confined, legally or otherwise, in any way, shape, or form. I’m a natural adventurer; I don’t and can’t remain in one place for long. Any relationship of mine best be with someone who has the same devil-may-care recklessness and willingness to get up, go, and hustle in all possible ways. Unfortunately, such a person either doesn’t exist or is already taken, as my pattern right now tends to be.
3. Being a workaholic
This is a current regret of mine, and I have to thank one of my friends for making me realize that in a very harsh way. And it’s nothing he said, really; he’s still one of my best and closest friends. It’s the simple fact of how his life and mine ended up unfolding.
A lot of people tell me every day, you work too hard, girl, slow down and relax. But in truth, I can’t afford to. The one time I had a bit of downtime from working was between my accounting job, the real estate thing, and my current job, and I nearly lost my mind worrying about how I was going to pay my bills. Since I started working at 22, outside of college, I had no idea what it was like to relax. Still don’t. But somewhere along the line, I met someone. No, not in that way, shaddup.
He’s still a friend, don’t get me wrong. And he and I had long gaps of losing touch, which most of my friends are used to in me. So, true to form, we lost touch again…for three years. And it wasn’t until two weeks ago that we resumed contact and it hit me: it’s been three years. And I’ve done nothing but work. He kept living; he looked happy, thriving, not just working his ass off like he was when I first met him, and where was I? Still nose to the grindstone. Three straight years have passed by, without me even noticing that it’s been that long, and it was only seeing him again that jarred me into realizing that hey: there’s life out there. That life keeps moving, and it moves wicked fast. And the more I bury myself into work, the more it’ll pass me by.
The bigger problem is, being a workaholic has been something ingrained in me from so early on that, truth be told, I haven’t the foggiest what it means to not work. Even my music-chasing trips have a business aspect to it. And I regret, very much, that I’ve let the early indoctrination into working my ass off to survive get to the point where I don’t even realize just how quickly time can flow.
But, as before, the lessons are invaluable. The path to those lessons…that’s a whole other thing.