Things happen in our life whether we are prepared for them or not. We don’t have a say in how the world around us takes place. Often the right thing happens at the wrong time. Taking advantage of an opportunity might not be possible. Or we are just not in the right state of mind or haven’t had the set of experiences necessary to make the best decisions. It’s unfortunate. It’s also something that is simply a feature of the world. Complaining or regretting won’t help.
In the fall of 1999 I was eighteen and starting college at UND. I had a full scholarship. I had a clear direction heading into the field of engineering. After not being especially challenged by high school I thought that college wouldn’t be so much harder. Actually I can’t say for sure what I thought. I don’t remember having a definite idea of what I expected. I may not have had any idea what to expect. A student adviser helped me set up my first semester block of classes (which still seems odd to me now). I ended up in classes that were way over my head including some specialized computer classes that seemed to have assumed previous experience with the programs which I didn’t have. Never having been in that situation I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have any idea how to get back to a comfortable place. After a month and a half of falling farther and farther behind I stopped going to classes all together. I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t face it anymore. That was also the beginning of my dealings with depression, but that’s a topic I’ve already covered and not the point here. The point is that I wasn’t ready for that experience. I failed the entire semester’s worth of classes and did not reenroll. Two years later after growing up a bit I went back to college, essentially starting from the beginning again. It went much better. Five years later I completed my degree. I regret having wasted the scholarship. But there is no going back. In the end things worked out. I don’t know that I can say that I’m glad to have gone through that rough experience, but I did learn from it. Probably a lot of things I couldn’t have learned any other way. And whether I would change things or not if I had the ability is irrelevant since I can’t anyway. I take what I learned from it and move on to make better choices, more informed actions in the future.
Another way this situation comes up for me is with music. I will often listen to an artist, not be all that interested, and move on. Then sometimes years later I will rediscover the same artist and love their music. I’ve gone through different music phases over the course of my life and each time the mass of what I’m able to appreciate grows. Something I wasn’t ready for ten years ago was the band Boards of Canada. Their electronic ambient style was right on the fringe of some of the things I was getting into at the time. But it was just far enough away to not be able to hold my interest. Having already rejected them as something I was not interested in I didn’t give them much thought whenever I saw the name come up. Then a few days ago a friend reintroduced me to them. I was amazed at how perfectly what they do lines up with the kind of music I’m listening to now. It was a weird circling back to where I had started, but with me having changed on the way there. Had I given them more of a chance back at the start would I have been listening to them this whole time? Probably not. It wasn’t the right time in my life for that thing and forcing it wouldn’t have done any good. I’d probably have been even less likely to reconsider them. But it’s interesting to have come back to find something you weren’t ready for and have it still be there waiting for me.
That’s a relatively minor example of this kind of thing though. I’m glad to have rediscovered music I enjoy but there are not any serious consequences involved like my failed college attempt. And unfortunately more often than not these situations do have consequences. Regret is nearly inevitable at some point. But until you are changed in the way that you can see whatever it was you couldn’t originally see there is nothing else to have been done. The worst is when that change comes immediately after it’s too late to go back. It doesn’t change anything about the past, but without time to deaden the blow regret hits hard. So what do you do then? I don’t know. Move on? Take stock of the changes in yourself and make different decisions next time? I guess. We’re all stumbling blindly through a maze. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to discover in advance the perils of what lies ahead. Usually though we don’t see the peril until we’re stuck in it, only to make it through with nothing more than a lesson that we can hopefully apply to the next situation. Ironically (or maybe not) the lessons most needed to navigate a situation are often only able to be learned after having gone through the experience. All we can do is make decisions based on the best information we have at the time. Sometimes that information is flawed. Sometimes the flaw lies within us. We can only move forward.