On Regrets

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.

K.G.

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5 thoughts on “On Regrets

  1. I can relate to a lot of things you share here. The growing up, the indoctrination into doing something “reasonable”, the carrot-and-stick approach, working from as early as 14 years of age in all kinds of odd jobs etc. etc. I can also relate to what you say about learning life’s lessons and the particular way in which those lessons are being imparted on one or the other person.
    I feel you on the workaholic part as well as on the realization that most people out there have and enjoy their lives and find a good balance with work and life. But in my experience this is often so, because they get to afford that and in many cases they can afford it, because there has been substantial support, where by “substantial” I mean emotional AND financial. I guess, I’m saying: You’ve had the courage to do things YOUR way and you took full charge and accountability (no pun intended) and there are very good reasons for you having chosen this path and frankly, whoever doesn’t see the place which you’re coming from FIRST has no business doling out shady advice or recommendations.
    While I wish for you to find a way of smelling the roses in between, I’d not allow the wise guys to judge you or criticize or whatever. Those are my spare 2 cents on the subject.
    As far as myself – I should have seen that freaking migration through in 2007. I am pretty sure, I’d have been in for some tough lessons and setbacks, but the difference would have been that I’d have stayed true to my journey. Coming back and choosing what seemed to be the safer, easier path was nothing but letting myself down. I don’t think, I will ever forgive myself for being a chicken-shit to end all chicken-shits.
    Anyway. It’s Sunday. Do something that gives you joy, perhaps read, listen to some nice Jazz and take yourself to diner later tonight. :)

    1. Thanks, Werner. And yeah, the workaholic bit…unfortunately, it’s at the DNA level. My father is the same way, but 1. I’ve written that bastard off, and 2. biology isn’t destiny. I can override this yet.

      I have been, through time, inundated with “advice” from well-meaning people who, to be frankly honest, had no business giving it in the first place. They came from a place of comfort, usually enjoying emotional and financial support from early on in their lives. Not all of us have that, and for those of us who have had neither financial nor emotional support, such advice is an insult of the highest kind. It’s not advice, it’s condescension.

      Until maybe the middle of my senior year at college, I was just letting life happen to me, not taking control of it. That is the true mistake I made, and that was the commonality to all three of those regrets, as I now can see. Taking control was the only way out. Otherwise, there was no telling where I’d have ended up. I shudder at the thought of one alternative.

      Life isn’t meant to be a script. It’s one of those things that are so dynamic and changes so often, that by this time, if you’re following a script-like order to life, something isn’t right. But the beautiful thing is, for certain part of life, nothing is ever too late. That migration of yours might well be within reach. It will be twice as tough now, because it hadn’t been seen through the first time, but it’s still within reach. And for those things that are too late, rest assured that those opportunities surface again, just in different clothing.

      Unfortunately, we can’t go back and undo our decisions. I think that, had we been granted the chance to live our lives over, things would’ve turned out to be drastically different. While we’re stuck with the consequences of our actions, there’s an old saying about lemons that’s very appropriate.

      1. I took the liberty to remove those from my life, whom I found to be condescending when it comes to major life decisions. I have taken enough shit to eventually understand that it can’t be confused with tasty chocolate…. Unfortunately and in doing so, I now seem to have become allergic to certain behaviours and might have developed a certain tendency to overreact. Oh yeah, whatever. Better safe then sorry.

        I hear you about taking control. I wish, I could say that I’ve fared well with what I believed to be taking control of my life. I thought I did, but it ultimately knocked me out of the common ballpark of the “game”. Not sure, how I got here and not finished processing it, either. But even halfway through, I’m afraid I am forced to realize that there is no such thing as control, at least not from my experience (and I hope, you’ll come to a better conclusion).

        As far as “stuck” and “lemons”: I have every intention and renewed resolve to make gallons of lemonade from the lemons dealt. Heck, I intend to make enough lemonade I get to start a business from it! All of that is the easier part. Not giving in to bitterness or cynicism and to remain open for surprises – that’s the real challenge for me.

        Well – thanks for sharing this. It IS kind of comforting to see, one’s not alone with have made certain experiences. (and how’s your comfty Sunday coming, b.t.w.? ;))

      2. To quote a great saying, “You never know how strongyou are until being strong is your only choice.”

        There is a lot, a lot of truth in that saying. You really hae no idea how much power you have in you until you’re at your lowerst point, and that’s when you make the choice: give in and stay down, or get back up and take another go at it. Cynicism and bitterness are all, unfortunately, par for the course. They’ll always be there. But there’s also no dark without light, and no matter how cynical you may get, there’s always the proverbial bright side. The bright side in this case is, you learned your lesson, and got to know yourself a little better. Now comes the decision: do you take another go at it, or do you stay still? Or, take a different path altogether.

        The thing about it all is the lessons. Regardless of whether you regret the experiences, you can never regret the lessons. They may be unpleasant, but they teach you.

        And yeah, I removed a fair few of those “well-meaning” individuals from my life. No matter how well one means, if you tell me I don’t have a clue about life just because I don’t see it as you do, then I reserve every right to 86 you from mine.

        And this lovely comfy Sunday has been a perfect day off…well, kinda. Gotta write another half a chapter.

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