In spite of the many mistakes I have made throughout my life, I don’t live with regrets. Those mistakes—and the lessons learned—all made me who I am today.
But as I get older, I realize that there are some things for which I would really like a do-over. Not because I did them wrong, but because I want to do them again as the wise, experienced, more developed person I am now…and experience them through the filter of someone with far more confidence and curiosity than I had when I was young.
College. Don’t get me wrong—I loved my college experience. I learned many things such as the concept of supply and demand…that I was never going to be an engineer or an architect thanks to my D in calculus…and how to train a rat to press a bar in return for a reward—a concept that I used every day when my children were young. But I think college is far more than classroom learning. It is primarily a transition space where you can learn to live and think independently…to separate from your family unit and start to see who you are as an individual…apart from your parents.
While I definitely expanded my horizons in college, with every reunion—and I’ve been to about eight of them now—I become more aware of what I didn’t take advantage of in college and what I might have done differently had I known then what I know now…
Stepped out of my box—with people. I was an athlete in college. I started out playing one sport and ended up playing three. That meant I spent the majority of my time surrounded by other athletes on the playing field or because they were my friends in classes at outside. They were awesome, but I missed out on getting to know so many other very interesting people and participating in campus activities. I never went to hear any of the many influential guest speakers who visited our campus…never went to the coffee house to hear acoustic music and have a cup of tea…never got to know people whose lives were not driven by competition and schedules.
Stepped out of my box—with places. My college has one of the prettiest rural campuses in the country, set on a hilltop in upstate New York. And yet, I never set foot off the grassy quads to explore the 1,000+ acres of beautiful campus-owned hiking paths surrounding the campus-proper. Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that I now spend a lot of time outdoors. Yet, having grown up in the malls of New Jersey, nature was not my natural environment when I was 18 and so I had no inclination to walk in the woods or in the hills surrounding the campus. No nature…no tours of the campus art collections…not even a tour of the nearby Utica Club Brewery (now the Saranac Brewery), one of the leading and early micro-brewers in the country.
Talk to people—really talk. The older I’ve gotten, the more my inherent curiosity about people has expanded, wanting to know about who they are and what makes them tick. In my younger years, I was afraid to have real conversations and ask personal questions. For all the many hours I spent with my friends in the dining hall or hanging out in the dorm rooms, I don’t remember ever having a real conversation about national or world issues, let alone family backgrounds or personal philosophies.
Perhaps it was the era. Unlike today where young people are highly engaged in social and political issues, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, we were mostly oblivious to what was happening in “the real world.” What more would I have learned—and how much more deeply connected might I have been with people—if I had asked real questions and had real conversations?
Relationship with my father. In spite of seeing my father every day at work for nearly 30 years, I would consider our relationship more formal than intimate. Perhaps that wasn’t unusual for that era, since parents who grew up during the Depression did not pal around with their kids as we do today.
That said, at my father’s funeral in 2013 and during the recent process of cleaning out my mother’s home for downsizing, I learned so much about him that had happened right under our noses—people he helped…ideas he had…and challenges he faced yet never shared with us…and I found some really amazing letters and solicitations he sent out when he was trying to build both Commentary Magazine and Bottom Line.
I wish that I spent more personal time with him simply playing, and I wish I had greater appreciation for the time that I did have with him. And if I had had the presence and communication skills that I have now, I would have asked my father more questions and had deeper conversations beyond the day-to-day tasks of the business. I was afraid to speak up then…now I’m not. What did I miss by being afraid?
Time with my high school friends: I dated the same guy from freshman year in high school until the middle of sophomore year in college. I wouldn’t be the person I am today had it not been for him—he played an important role in my evolution into a skier, nature girl and someone willing to step out of my comfort zone. That was all thanks to “Greg.” I loved him…I loved his family…and I still miss his mother even though she passed away nearly 30 years ago. But as with everything, there was a trade-off. We were so insulated as a couple that I missed out on time with other friends. If we weren’t at school or at our respective jobs, he and I were together…and that left little time for me to play with the girls or socialize with the gang.
Through the years, I’ve very much integrated me-time into my life, be it time for me individually or for interests and relationships that my husband doesn’t share. If I were to do high school over, I would understand the importance of this balance and carve out time for other activities and people.
When I sat down to write this blog, I wasn’t sure it was going to be so powerful. My husband asked, “Why look back?” He looks forward. True—I can’t relive any of these things, but there are lessons from my do-over list that I can take into my current life…
- Be more open and adventurous outside of my usual box.
- Take time to get to know people. Be truly interested in them. My father used to say that the only things worth talking about are the things you can’t talk about. That’s probably never been more true than it is today. I’ve found that when you’re speaking from the heart and without judgement, there are no difficult conversations.
- Take the time for me. This one I learned in spades, and it has guided me for decades. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself. It’s always a balance with life’s many obligations, but just a half-hour to walk or exercise…or 10 minutes of meditation…is a priceless investment in your own health and wellness.
You can’t change the past. But you can bring lessons from your past to your present…and create an even better future.