“Regrets, I’ve had a few…”
Who among us doesn’t look back on his life and wish he’d done things differently? I know I have, and the vast majority of my friends have at least one thing they wish they could do over. Maybe they’d go back to their high school days and stand up to that bully, or perhaps they’d ask out that seemingly perfect guy or girl they thought they didn’t have a snowball’s chance with, or maybe they’d even pass on that dream job that quickly turned into a nightmare. Whatever it is, everyone has that one thing they’d like to go back and have just one more shot at.
As I’ve begun to take myself seriously as an author, I’ve thought back to my younger days and dreamed about how different my life might be now if I’d approached things just a little differently, if I’d known earlier what I could accomplish if I just took that chance. When would I start? How far back would I have to go to start making those changes?
I’ve always loved writing, and I can remember writing little stories and even poems as far back as third grade. At that time in my life, it wasn’t so much the need to change what I did, as much as I might have needed others to change, to recognize and encourage my budding writing skills, rather than giving me a pat on the head, saying “How cute,” and sending me on my way.
If I’d time travel back to high school, when I started writing poems, one thing I could have done differently was that I might have talked to my English teachers, or even the school librarian, about writing contests and publishing, or maybe I could have started a writing club. Of course, I went to school in a very small district, and our town was often fondly (or not-so-fondly) referred to as “The Bubble,” which pretty much meant we were isolated and not always up to snuff on what happened in the outside world, so things like writing contests and even writing clubs were almost unheard of in our little town, and I wouldn’t have had the courage to pursue those things anyway.
By and large, I think my best bet for changing things would have been in my college days. While I enjoyed college and made excellent grades in every class I took (well, except for that rock climbing course at Lock Haven that earned me a C, but that’s another post), I have to admit that I wasn’t very focused. I took whatever classes caught my fancy instead of having a plan, a goal in mind that I was working towards. Again, I feel some of the fault lies with my academic advisors and even professors who could have stepped in to offer some advice, to ask “Where do you see yourself in five years? What do you plan to do with your degree?”
How would I have answered those questions? I’m not really sure. Yes, there was the writing aspect of things. I loved writing, but at that time I was extremely focused on poetry and thought I wasn’t able to write anything else. I wish I’d tried my hand at fiction writing (which I avoided partly because the professor scared me), or even technical and scientific writing (I also loved earth science and dabbled quite a bit in geology, meteorology, and astronomy). Whatever I might have focused on, at least I would have been honing my writing skills.
There was another part of me that had the desire to teach literature. Like most other writers, I was also a voracious reader, and I loved delving into books, reading what others had written and exploring the themes and images used by various authors. I was especially fond of British literature, specifically the Arthurian Legends. Now here is where I did have a bit of a plan, and that plan was to graduate from Lock Haven and then head right off to graduate school to study British Lit. I would do a concentration in the Arthurian Legends and write my thesis on the changing treatment of women in Arthurian legends throughout the centuries.
What stopped me? Lots of things, I guess. The biggest was probably the lack of funding. I already had a load of debt from my undergraduate years and was hesitant to add more. I had been accepted at Bucknell University’s graduate program, as well as the one at Wooster in Boston and Trinity over in Ireland, but none of the teaching fellowships I’d applied for came through, so I put off going to grad school, during which time I rethought my plan. If I earned myself a degree in British/Arthurian Literature, what on earth would I do with it? The best I thought I could hope for would have been becoming a college professor, which I would have loved, but there weren’t a lot of jobs available at that time. Again, there was the looming fear of debt. I didn’t want to be another $20,000 in debt without a decent job prospect.
I could have turned to my other love, writing. I could have penned my own Arthurian novels or done my own research projects and published them. But did I need a Masters degree to do that? No, not really. Still, I wonder if that unattained degree might have opened doors that I’d never even known were there. Maybe I could have been a writer for one of my favorite shows, Merlin, or come up with my own.
In the end, it’s futile to sit around wallowing in regret over what I didn’t pursue or choices I made years ago. But the regret over things I didn’t attempt actually serves a purpose in the here and now. Now, I am much more likely to take a leap of faith and pursue something that catches my interest. Those regrets have fueled my efforts at writing and publishing my novels. I’m sure there are opportunities I’m missing even now that I will think about years down the line, but at least I’m no longer cowering in my corner, afraid to take a chance, afraid of failing.
Because I have come to a point in my life where I realize that sometimes the fear of regret far outweighs the fear of failure.
How about you? What do you wish you could have done differently? Leave your thoughts in the comment section.