My Biggest Regret – Not Realizing What I Didn’t Know

My good friend Laura Pasquini shared this link on twitter a while back, a youtube video with people sharing their biggest regret (ok, it wasn’t this video, but I couldn’t find the original.  this will do).

My initial response was that I try to not live with regrets, I just have things that I do using the information I have at the time.  It’s foolish, I think, to look back and think about regrets because you’re viewing it through a lens that was different than the one you had that you used to decide to do whatever you did that you regret.  It’s unfair.

So on the surface, I hate this question because it’s unfair and it’s filled with people being unfair to themselves.  I’ve seen too many people in my life get so burdened down with regrets of things they did, things that they wish they did and things they shouldn’t have done.  They stop functioning and stop living forward.  To quote Don Draper, do what you have to do in life, move forward and you’ll be surprised by how much these things didn’t matter.

However, I was surprised to find myself at the orientation presentation I give for students, starting to realize something I regret.  I was giving three presentations, off and on, during orientation sessions, one which focused on parents and rallied them to get their students involved with campus, one on campus events and our campus activities board, and one on the offices in student affairs and how we provide life-changing experiences and resources for students.  Two of these sessions, the ones that weren’t about campus events, were presented with other offices, including the career center.  The funny thing is that I found myself mentioning, quite specifically, the career center in the other session.  But why?  I wonder if I didn’t see myself quite a bit in their 18 year old faces, making me feel that I needed to tell 18 year old me a story.

Let’s backtrack.

I started off college as a business major.  During the first week of school, I changed to pre-pharmacy, presumably because I wanted to make that bread (academic advisors will find that familiar).  I did well in pre-pharm, and was admitted to pharmacy school after my sophomore year.  While working in the pharmacy, I realized that I hated it, so I drove back down to my college the summer before pharmacy school, dropped out and re-enrolled in undergrad as a chemistry/biology major.  After one semester, I dropped the bio major to a minor and would eventually graduate as a chemistry major.  Somewhere in there I got wrapped up in student activities and we know how that ended (if you don’t, check my about page).

So, not knowing what to do with myself at this point, I left to live in California for the summer, while I waited to hear back from the bizarre collection of graduate school applications I’d submitted (phd in chemistry, mba, divinity school (yes, i said that)).  I was admitted to all and decided that the phd in chem was the best financial path since I’d be making a whopping $24k per year and have my tuition covered.  I would end up leaving the program after a semester with terrible grades, complete disinterest in my classes and the stink of failure.  I would have left in September, truth be told, because I hated it, but I couldn’t give up on my teaching obligations.

Fueled by that experience, I somehow acquired a teaching position teaching 7th grade science that I would leave at the end of the school year.  After that, I got a CNA certification and got a job at a small surgery center.  During the course of that year, I decided I wanted to do student affairs, but couldn’t apply.  So I left this job when my lease ran out and was able to acquire a job working in the mortgage industry with Wells Fargo.  During my time there, I’d be admitted to grad school and the rest, as they say, is history.

So, why did I tell you all this?  Other than self-mutilation?

The truth is, I was a complete idiot.  I hope that the seasoned career folks and student affairs pros can see the foolishness in my path there.  I entered college with no direction, left college with no direction and spent the next four years doing the career exploration that should have been done as a college student, if not as a high school student.  In truth, I didn’t realize how lost I was.  My parents weren’t able to help, even though I know they really wanted to, and I wasn’t wise enough to seek professional help at that age.

My biggest regret is that I didn’t know how lost I was.  I wish that I’d had the intelligence and foresight to go ask a seasoned career pro to help me through how lost I was, maybe to give me a career inventory or something (oddly enough, one of these landed me in student affairs).  I wish that I hadn’t spent three years wandering around lost.  It cost me a relationship, friendships, three years of earning potential, a lot of emotional distress, and a lot of time doing something I love.

So, I think that’s why I felt compelled to reach out to these freshman.  I don’t want them to end up like me, someone who just blindly stumbled into his vocation.  All of the resources I used to get here are available to anyone on the internet or in a career services office.  Don’t be a moron like me and not take advantage of it if you find yourself lost.

Truth be told, I’ve seen a career professional 4 times since I started my masters degree in 2007, and I plan on going back the next time I feel a little bit lost.  They’re good at it, and I trust that they have my best interest at heart.

That’s the thing about regrets.  As long as they inform your future, and move you on towards something positive, they’re worth your time.  Just remember, as the avetts say, when you run make sure you run to something not away from.  I think I’m running the right way….for now.


12 thoughts on “My Biggest Regret – Not Realizing What I Didn’t Know

  1. Thanks for sharing. I can relate to not reaching out for resources in college. Big mistake always. It’s a good reminder when going through these Orientation sessions and talking w/students to constantly let them know there are folks out there to help.

  2. Really good article, Jeff. I have gone down the road of regret numerous times, but always try to steer myself in the other direction; it’s a dead end if not used, as you so aptly put it, “to inform your future.” I wasted two years of my life wallowing in self-pity over broken relationships and struggling with an eating disorder, but I would not trade the lessons I learned during that time for anything. That season of life frames the way I look at everything now. Seasons spent in the wilderness of life often make the path ahead all the more clear.

  3. I see a lot of myself in this story, Jeff. I changed directions many times in my college career (without the help of a professional) and I share this with my students at orientation. I begin with my five-year-old aspirations of becoming a ballerina, which clearly didn’t happen. I think they appreciate the honesty and vulnerability of not “having all the answers.”

    I make sure that I mention how they can get involved off and on campus, not because it’s “fun and fulfilling,” but because it’s necessary. Luckily our Student Involvement staff reaffirms the importance of seeking help from our Career Center.

    I think many can relate to having a path that takes many detours along the way. Thanks for sharing!

    • I guess I just wonder “was that all necessary”. Obviously there’s no answer to that question, but I think my answer is no.

  4. The other version of this is having a road set out for you, with misguided advice on job, major, and geographic location, jumping in the car and starting to drive, only to realize it’s the wrong damn car on the wrong damn road! It’s equally as regretful as being lost without knowing it, because you don’t feel lost. Until you are. I’ll throw you a DMB line, and say I should have made a left, instead of taking a right. Maybe I wouldn’t be somebody different, but I’d have been myself, sooner.

  5. Interesting to hear more of your back story Jeff. Based on your story, the comments below, and my journey through school, it makes me wonder if wandering is just a natural part of growing up? How early would you’ve wanted to see a career counselor? If you hadn’t of had the misfires maybe you wouldn’t believe what the CC was telling you… The teacher shows up when the student is ready.

  6. Pingback: Look Forward [QUOTE] | Tom Krieglstein

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