Monday, April 11, 2011

Rewind, Redo?

I look back at my life sometimes, and I realize how differently I'd do things if I could go back now knowing what I know today. I've thought about it idly periodically, and there are times I start to feel a little regret knowing that I could do things "better" than I did the first time around.

In college, I never took a language course as I'd already completed a second year French class at the University of Minnesota. French was easy for me, a natural language that just made sense. Do you have any idea how easy it would have been to minor in French and have that as a background with the French I'd already taken? But I took nothing, not a single class - because I didn't have to.

No language classes also meant that I didn't study abroad at all, although there were English language options out there. Back then, Northwestern had only full year options, and ... well I had reasons I didn't want to give up a year of classes on campus. For example:

I was driven to have a double major in two disparate areas. There was a time I even debated doing a triple major in a third - unrelated - area. It wasn't because I was passionate about them but instead because a triple major would be the best. I decided in the end to go with a double major - and finished a quarter early instead where I could do nothing and play the last quarter.

And I did play some. But because I also wanted to be the best, I worked three jobs at the same time. I worked one day a week downtown in commercial insurance. I worked nannying two or three days a week. And I worked in the executive programs at Northwestern three or so half days a week. I did that while taking a full load of four classes prior to that spring, too. Needless to say, all of that takes up a lot of time and energy.

I loved none of it, but I always felt that I had to push myself to be the undefined "best" - something that is so obviously not possible, nor would it probably have made me happy anyway, as I could always find another goal or stretch further.

That meant I never joined a sorority, something that was very prevalent. I didn't join because I had a preconceived notion about sorority girls and didn't want to fit that mold. I still befriended women who were in sororities, and they were wonderful, but ... I didn't do it.

I also rarely went to office hours for my professors because I was so busy - and the jobs above don't include the extra curricular activities I was involved in. I doubt any of my professors knew my name when I was in their classes, let alone today. I never got to know any of them or what made them special. I was in the class for the knowledge I needed to get the best possible grade and wanted just to get out of it what I had to for that. When I look at so many of my friends who got to know their professors and involved in their research and learned so many things outside the classroom, I'm, frankly, jealous. I don't just regret not gaining that knowledge, but the memories that would have accompanied it.

Oh how different my life would be were I to go back and redo it. Except that I like my life. I like living where I live and my friends. I love the wee ones and wouldn't trade them for the world. My husband is awesome. And in general ... I'm happy. And content. I wouldn't want to change any of that.

Besides, I'm awfully crabby now. I think about going back and doing college again, and there's no way I could survive on that little sleep. And oh the stupidity of college students. I'm not up for putting up with that on a day to day basis. I mean, come on, I still don't know how to text. Can you imagine me trying to go back and living a life where students are Skyping with their professors (nope, never done that either), bopping to and from class with their iPods turned way up (ohhh the noise!), trekking around with their iPads (on my wish list at least?), and ... I can't even imagine what else.

And I can't imagine living that life again. I can't imagine being 18 again and living that life again. I'm 35. And I'm happy at 35. I was always somewhat of an old soul - possibly why I made some of those choices to begin with - and I'm not up for living my life again. And taking away the life I have today? I wouldn't want to do that either.

Now? Oh, sure maybe I would have done some things differently "back then," but I'm good with how all those choices turned out. And what I feel isn't really regret. It's a knowledge of what's important in life that I can use now and going forward. It's something that I want to impart to the wee ones, lessons that I hope they'll learn.

Live your life while you're in college, but that doesn't mean go overboard. Find your passion and follow it. Develop relationships with the professors you respect and push them to teach you more. Focus on the big picture and not just on some nebulous goal of being the "best." The best is never going to make anyone happy, and it can't be achieved anyway. Figure out what you're going to want to know fifteen or twenty years after college, and make sure you learn it. Figure out what experiences are available to you, and take advantage of them. And don't forget to study, of course!

I know the wee ones won't do everything the "right" way, but I'm certainly hoping that while they may make decisions in the moment that they may look at differently in the future, they never look back with genuine regret because they don't like the life they're living. Because when I really think about it, I know I don't.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was provided with a copy of the book "29" as part of the book club From Left To Write where we write posts inspired by the book rather than reviewing the book. I received no compensation, and all opinions expressed are my own.

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Lisa Noel April 11, 2011 at 1:14 PM  

I totally wish I'd have finished that marketing degree I started. But maybe someday I'll go back and finish....or not. Who knows. But I won't be going back to the full college lifestyle. I wasn't as driven as you but I was taking a single major honors course load, a full time job and 4 major extra curricular activities that stressed me to the point of illness and eventually dropping out.

Pat April 11, 2011 at 11:38 PM  

This is a very thoughtful post, Michelle. It is interesting to think back on our lives and wonder how we would have ended up if we'd made a different decision here or there. I'm with you in that I'm happy with how my life has gone and I wouldn't trade any of my experiences. Both the good and the bad experiences have worked together to make me who I am today. Plus, as you mentioned about your wee ones, I love my three wonderful sons and wouldn't change them for the world.

Pat April 11, 2011 at 11:38 PM  

This is a very thoughtful post, Michelle. It is interesting to think back on our lives and wonder how we would have ended up if we'd made a different decision here or there. I'm with you in that I'm happy with how my life has gone and I wouldn't trade any of my experiences. Both the good and the bad experiences have worked together to make me who I am today. Plus, as you mentioned about your wee ones, I love my three wonderful sons and wouldn't change them for the world.

Anonymous April 12, 2011 at 10:40 AM  

Very insightful post! I often wonder what I would change about the college years. I think my life would be rather different but like you I am happy with my life so i guess inthe end I wouldn't change a thing.

Amy H April 12, 2011 at 11:47 AM  

My college experience was far from perfect. I made plenty of poor choices along the way. But I look at what I got out of my college experience and know that there's no doubt I wouldn't have done things differently. I met my closest friends, launched my writing career and fell in love with my wonderful husband. I don't remember everything I learned in class, but the life lessons are something I'll cherish forever.

I'm so glad you've found that you're in a great place and I hope your children learn that happiness from you too!

Michelle April 12, 2011 at 1:58 PM  

Lisa - It's funny you say that. My school district is now fighting that issue and realizing how much of a problem that really is and focusing on finding ways to help kids cope so they don't get to that point.

Pat - Absolutely. It's so easy to say that "I wish I had" - but then I wouldn't be here, and I like "here." I'm lucky I do!

Patty - We don't look at it that way nearly often enough though, do we? It's an attitude to focus on though.

Amy - And making the poor choices when in college is the time to do it when the consequences aren't as great and we can learn from them in a relatively safe environment. So glad you found lessons you cherish, too!

Adena Halpern April 12, 2011 at 7:24 PM  

Wonderful post. I know that I wouldn't want to go back in time myself. I like where I am and I know it was some of those mistakes that got me here.
-Adena Halpern

April April 13, 2011 at 3:32 PM  

Seems like a lot of us have crossed over from "coulda, woulda, shoulda" to "been there, done that."

Heather April 13, 2011 at 9:23 PM  

There are so many things I would do differently too. And I'm only 26. But life is all about choices and I'm happy (For the most part) with the ones I've made!

Melissa April 14, 2011 at 12:52 PM  

Similarly, I wish I had taken greater advantage of my undergrad education. It is funny how later in life we really develop the knowledge and skills to fully appreciate college...but are too busy (or cranky) or settled to do it. I went to graduate school and definitely got more out of the experience.

Michelle April 14, 2011 at 12:52 PM  

Adena - Absolutely. I like who I am now. Although, I have to admit it wouldn't be so bad to visit for a day here and there!

April - That's a great way of putting it. I'm so grateful that I have. Here's hoping more make that leap.

Heather - That's the rough part, isn't it? There were so many bad choices and things we'd do differently, but ... we wouldn't be the people are now, and you're definitely a pretty good person!

Michelle April 14, 2011 at 12:59 PM  

Melissa - It's funny you say that. I was talking to a friend today about how to redefine ourselves beyond our "mommy" roles, and she mentioned some continuing education classes she's interested in and possibly part time work in her pre-kid field. I mentioned that I'd love to do something ST or OT related (since we've done so much with the wee ones!) but that I would never end up doing it because now it isn't "just" a Masters that's required but an actual PhD to be a therapist. Insane. And I'd really like to do it... that's closer to my passion, and I'm not working again if I don't have a passion for it!

septembermom April 15, 2011 at 3:26 PM  

I wish that I majored in education additional to literature. At that time, I didn't know that teaching would be a career for me. I think it may not happen for me now.

Michelle April 21, 2011 at 8:30 PM  

Kelly - And that's the thing. The person I am today is not the person I was in college... so focusing on one major then isn't necessarily what I wish I'd focused on now.

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