In a post long ago, I talked about regrets and how I view them as a natural part of the examined life, something to be embraced, not feared. A person who claims he has no regrets is either a magnificent liar or an unreflective fool.
You can learn a lot from your regrets, and the only goal should be to minimize their occurrence as you grow older.
I didn’t go into much detail discussing the specifics of my actual regrets, but I’ve now decided to list the top 10 regrets of my life to date, thinking that it could actually be a useful exercise for me and an enjoyable, potentially educational, but very long read for others (so long in fact that I’ve decided to divide the column into two).
Over at dagblog.com, each regret will be accompanied by a related question in the comment section for you to answer.
Some of these regrets are small, some are huge. Some are in the past, where nothing can be done about them, and some persist today. All contribute to who I am, and as the new Senator from Minnesota was known to say in a previous life, “And that’s … OK.”
1) I regret not lifting weights when I was going through puberty. Let’s start off small. I think a bit of strength training – not a crazy amount, mind you, just a little weightlifting – is much more impactful when your body is developing and maturing. I’m not very body obsessed, but I think being stronger would have helped in a bunch of different ways. At the very least, it would have made me a better baseball player, which would have been nice as not making the high school baseball team is another regret of mine (although not worth a top 10 since I did try out 3 times, getting cut each year, and I give myself props for that).
2) I regret not making the top 10 of my high school graduating class. This is actually a bit of an anomaly because if anything, I think I cared too much about grades and schoolwork. But there’s a reason why this stands out as a regret. I remember going to my brother’s graduation as a junior high schooler and seeing the ten students with the top 10 GPAs get recognized for their efforts – they were asked to stand and the crowd gave each of them a significant round of appreciative applause.
For some reason, I decided there and then that that was something I wanted to accomplish. It became a goal – a ridiculous and nerdy one to be sure, but a goal nonetheless. And it was in my grasp til the very end, as I got all A’s until my final semester of high school. But I didn’t do the extra effort to sneak into the top 10, refusing to do the term papers that would have gotten me the ‘H’ honors (and 5.0) grades in history that would have put me over the hump. This sounds like a small, almost stupid thing but in many ways its indicative of a lack of single-minded determination, which I think the most successful in society seem to have and I clearly don’t (an issue that comes up later in this post). I had a goal, I should have worked just a bit harder to achieve it, plain and simple.
3) I regret not living an extended period of time in a foreign country. This is pretty self-explanatory and clearly, the easiest, best time to do this would have been in college, studying abroad for a semester or year. To me, it’s a sign of me living scared and nervous about trying new things.
As a side regret, though it isn’t necessarily my fault, I regret not learning a foreign language (or two) earlier in life. Like developing muscles, languages are so much easier to learn when you’re young, and I automatically give people an extra ten points of respect and IQ when I hear they’re fluent in multiple languages. Unfortunately, the arrogant American public education system didn’t include foreign languages as part of its early education curriculum back when I was a kid (I think it might now, but in any case at least American kids today have the bilingual Dora). In the end, I took 6 years of French in high school and college and still could barely communicate with the Frenchies when I was in Paris for a trip about ten years back.
4) I regret not being nicer to my mother through my teenage and young adult life. My mom is awesome. She’s funny and social and loving and sensitive and generous, and full of so many endearing quirks. Everyone loves her. I do, too, of course, but there was a time when she embarrassed me. OK, she still does, but there was a time when I was way too annoyed by my embarrassment and wasn’t always so nice to her.
Nothing major, just small cutting comments or a general lack of affection. I know where I was coming from and what I was doing – just trying to rebel a bit. Like all good Jewish mothers, my mom is a bit smothering and neurotic and for much of my pre-teen life I was a big mama’s boy, and I probably overcompensated in my attempt to shed that image. I can now fully embrace that I am and will always be a mama’s boy. But I know there were times I hurt her when she did nothing wrong, and for that I am sorry.
5) I regret giving up acting in college. In high school, I was in many of the plays, and had decent-sized parts in a lot of them, except for the musicals because I can’t sing or dance (We did Fiddler on the Roof, and I – one of the few Jews in the production – had to play a Russian because of my limited skills). I really enjoyed acting, and thought I was pretty good at it (I knew I had some talent when during a final exam in a freshman acting class I was able to cry during a scene in which I played a father who found out his wife had left him. The tears even surprised me.)
I wasn’t perfect, by any means – watching old tapes, I cringe at some of the tics I brought to the stage, but I would have liked to continue to pursue acting. Didn’t think that would be an issue seeing as I was, after all, going to Northwestern University, which was known for its theater department. Unfortunately, freshman year I got paired up with a roommate who was majoring in theater and it discouraged me when I saw his commitment to the profession. I thought about performing as a lark, not necessarily a career, and my roommate and his theater friends were approaching it on a much different level. So I chickened out and never pursued it further. I’ve taken a couple of acting and improv classes to try and rekindle the magic, but I’m afraid that dream may be dead.