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.