Tuesday, October 12, 2010

If I Knew Then What I Know Now

Since I'm turning thirty in a few months, I've been thinking a lot about how much has changed since I was a teenager. I'm not really one of those people who wishes she could turn back time, because then I'd have to live through my teen years and twenties all over again. For example, I don't really want to be sixteen again, because back then I had this haircut that made me look like I'd been electrocuted and I thought wearing plaid flannel shirts matched with a giant peace sign necklace every day was stylish.

I didn't go to my high school reunion. I lost touch with everyone from high school (except for one close friend) before I was even done with college. If I were to go to a reunion now, I'd probably confront every person who made fun of the way I looked or how I was always reading or who put me down because I wasn't  "popular"; I'd probably say, "It is NOT good to see you again! In my dreams, you are trapped in the Jersey Shore house with only Snooki and the Situation for company."

But on the other hand, there are things that I did in the past that I wish I'd done differently. If I could go back and change things, who knows what my life would be like now?

For example, when I think of this guy I went on a date with in college, if I could go back in time I wouldn't have agreed to go out with him. I would run in the opposite direction, screaming, "Run for your lives! The guy has fish lips and he will aim them at you if you smile at him! Don't look him in the eye because that's how he GETS you!"

In college, I did an internship at a company that had a job opening I could have applied for. I often think about what would have happened if I had taken that job instead of going to graduate school. I might have told that younger version of myself, "Sure, you could pursue teaching and have some good experiences. On the other hand, if you take this job, you won't feel guilty about getting more than five hours of sleep a night, you won't have to wait until your late thirties before you get a job where you get benefits and earn enough money to live on, and the sight of textbooks won't make you break out in hives.

'You also won't have nightmares about undergrads chasing you across campus, shouting, 'Please, could you just look over my paper ONE more time?' while you flee from them screaming with your hands in the air and the veteran professors standing to the side, shaking their heads and saying, 'It's pointless to resist. Just give in now. It's easier this way. That's what we all did, and look at us, we're fine, other than the fact that we all speak in a monotone and never blink.'"

Once I started my Ph.D., I had to keep working one or two additional jobs in addition to my responsibilities as a teaching assistant and my graduate work, just so I could support myself. But the problem was that I was spending so much time on teaching that I didn't have enough time for my graduate work. Unlike when I was in the M.A. program and in college, now it's a struggle just to keep up, let alone excel in school.

If I could go back in time, I'd tell myself, "Stop spending more time on teaching than on your graduate work. Ignore the constant e-mails from students who write stuff like 'Why haven't you e-mailed me back? I e-mailed you three minutes ago and I haven't gotten a response yet and I am FREAKING OUT because I don't know how to write my thesis statement and I think it's your responsibility to stay by your computer at all times in case I e-mail you.' Otherwise, if you don't spend enough time on your graduate work, you're going to get e-mails from your professors that say stuff like, 'This is your paper? Seriously?'"

If I could go back to those dates where the guys would smile and say, "I'll call you," I would say, "No, you won't. And thank you for that."

When I first moved to Chicago, I attended festivals, went to museums, and watched plays that sold cheap tickets. I went to free concerts in Grant Park, browsed in bookstores, and explored neighborhoods that looked interesting. But now I haven't been to a movie in months (not that I can afford to buy a ticket anyway) and my life mainly consists of teaching, studying, and sleeping. Occasionally I make time to write fiction and the occasional blog entry, but that's it.

I would tell myself, "Yes, graduate school is important, and you have to spend a lot of time studying. But don't spend so much time working that you flinch when you come into contact with sunlight, as if you're some kind of vampire or something. Don't work so hard that you start having nightmares about grading papers every night. Don't fill up your schedule to the point that looking at a list of everything you have to do every day makes you want to curl up into the fetal position and start whispering to yourself. Let yourself do something fun, and I mean FUN, not just watch an episode of the latest crime drama, which will make you start worrying that any random person could be a serial killer, to the point that you start eyeballing every person on the street who looks weird and to whom you will say, "Not TODAY, psycho! Not TODAY!"

But I can't go back in time. I guess all I can do is learn from my mistakes and move on.

What about you? Do you ever wish for a "do-over"?

The amazing Theresa Milstein gave me this award; check out her blog, the Substitute Teacher's Saga! You'll love it! Thank you Theresa!


  1. Wonderful post! It's amazing to me how much we're on the same page, you know, except for the pursuit of the Ph.D. and all. :) I feel like I really missed a lot on the social spectrum because I was so focused on excelling in school in my teens and early twenties. I look back and know that I'm behind because of it. I just kept thinking "Well, who wants high school boys when I can wait and have college boys?" then "Well, who wants these college boys when I can wait a few years and have a REAL man?" So far, none of those put-offs have panned out to anything successful. I feel like I missed the "trial and error" period where people find out what they're looking for and not looking for, so now I've got do to all that frog-kissing that I missed in those years of studying. Granted, I got a great scholarship and a great education, but so did a lot of other people who also got great relationships/spouses at the same time. I also wish I hadn't felt or gotten myself into the position of feeling desperate to find a job after college, then taking the first one that was offered and painting myself into a corner of miserable existence for three years. I started and continued a career path that I knew wasn't for me and had to make a rash decision to get out of it. I'm still financially paying the price now and am behind my peers professionally. I'll make up the ground, I know, but I'm kicking myself for not listening to my heart at the time. I could have waited tables for a few more months! LOL

  2. I can relate to this truthful post. We all have regrets. Even if we acknowledge we may be stronger for some of it, we can't help but wish we could go back and tweak our lives.

    I would have figured out I wanted to be a high school teacher sooner so I could've gotten everything together before I started having kids. And I would've taken more writing courses in college. I would've started writing sooner. And most of all, I would've bought a house in 1997 before I knew the market would've gotten so hot that I would've at least doubled my investment before I have to move in 2001. Instead, I chickened out, thinking I'd lose money.

    I'm glad you like the award.

  3. Hi Melanie,
    I can totally relate to what you're saying. I spent a lot of time focusing on school, and kept saying to myself that I'd spend more time on dating once I was done with school. But then again there's always the hope that guys our age are going to be more mature than they were in high school/college. (But of course there are plenty of immature guys our age). It's hard to listen to your heart if your brain is telling you something different, you know?

    Hi Theresa,
    Thanks again for the award. I wish I'd taken more writing courses too when I had the chance. Now I don't really have the time or the money to take one, and there are some really great ones out there. But at least you're writing now, and that's better than some people who never take the plunge!

  4. Boy can I relate--especially currently! *sigh* I'd say more, but I'm so tired that complete thoughts aren't coming real fast today :/

  5. Hi Catherine,
    I'm tired too. I think that things always get really busy during this time of the school year, so they can become all-consuming.

  6. Let yourself do something fun, and I mean FUN, not just watch an episode of the latest crime drama, which will make you start worrying that any random person could be a serial killer, to the point that you start eyeballing every person on the street who looks weird and to whom you will say, "Not TODAY, psycho! Not TODAY!"

    I love this. Yes, I have regrets. Yes, my idea of escaping my thesis and doing something fun tends to involve t.v. shows. Yes, I know this is sad.

  7. Hi Anonymous,
    It's not sad. The thing about TV is that it doesn't take up as much time as other things, like going to a play or a museum. And it can provide a temporary escape from all the work. That's why cable TV is the one luxury I'm not willing to give up.