When I was in my twenties I can remember people saying "Oh to be young again!" and I would think "Who in the hell would want to be in their twenties again?! I sure as heck don't want to have to live through these years twice!"
Now I get it!
It just dawned on me that when I was young, in my twenties and even my thirties, it never occurred to me that I would have regrets. I just assumed and believed that life always works out the right way. I don't know where I got that belief. And I don't know if every young person has that sort of feeling of invincibility. Do they? Is it something that all twenty and thirty somethings believe – at least subconsciously?
It is not as if I had observed everything always going right for people. But that was "small stuff". That saying about "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff . . . and its All Small stuff" was popular back then. It is not "small stuff" that I mourn. It is the big stuff. Whoever first said that quote was wrong! Big stuff exists and it should be "sweated".
I think for me there was a trust and belief in some benevolent force/God in the Universe that guides our lives; that as long as I did the best I could that this force would lead me to a good fulfilling life. Again, I do not know where I got that belief.
Maybe the belief was there in the place of any real guidance from the adults around me. My parents were wonderful in guiding me such that I did not get into any real trouble – like involvement with drugs or other dangers. And my Mom taught me to eat well. We did not have much junk food in our lives and that is still true for me today. But my parents were lacking in the ability to teach me how to run my life; how to set, plan for, and achieve goals.
I felt rudderless. I was rudderless! I longed for some kind of structure. I had no idea how to set it up for myself so I went looking for it in external forms. Sadly, I found it in the form of a "spiritual teacher" who actually turned out to be a cult leader. Cult is probably too strong of a term. Usually I call it an "Intentional Community". I was in that community for longer than I would like to admit.
Being in that community is and was no different than being in a marriage for the wrong reasons. Leaving it was incredibly similar to getting divorced. So I did not have children because of the cult just as others did not have children because they were married to a spouse that did not want them. I know that I am not alone in regretting that I never carried a child in pregnancy, that I have never been a mom.
The regret about not having children is by far the greatest. It is an ache that will probably never fully ease. In fact, the thing that brought up these feelings tonight and thus generated this post was looking through photos on 123rf.com and seeing the photos of pregnant women. Damn, I wanted to have kids! Being a mother was the only thing I was sure that I would do. I would have been a good mother. I know that.
The potency of regret is strong because there really is no choice at this point. It is too late. I am past child bearing years. Yes, there have been women in their 50's who have done IVF. I would never do that. I do not think it is fair to the child. Imagine being 30 years old and having an 85 year old mother! Caring for an aging mother is a fine thing for me to be doing at 55 but I would never wish it on a 30 year old!!
My other tremendous regret is that I did not become a doctor. It is the only thing I ever wanted to do. Why did I not? Stupid but true story: I took the MCAT cold the first time – which is an allowed thing to do. It is fine to take them twice – at least it was back then in the early 1980's. I did fairly well; well enough that I got an informational interview at the University of Washington Medical School. They encouraged me to sit the exam and apply again. So I studied to take the MCAT a second time. I was working in research at the time and ended up having to do night shifts for a couple of weeks before the test. Night shifts really throw me so I was not able to do the amount of studying I had planned to do. Therefore I decided not to take the test that time around and instead wait to take when it was offered again in 6 months.
The night before the exam my mom called to wish me good luck. I told her that I had decided to wait for the next exam so I could study more. For whatever reason, my mom lit into me saying that I always give up on things and that I am just a quitter, etc – none of which was even true but I didn't think about that until later. She guilt tripped me so badly that I went in and took the MCAT the next day. Therefore I essentially took it cold the second time too and got almost the same score. Taking the MCAT three times was not really "allowed"; meaning med schools would not look at you. I would have had to go back to school and gotten a masters in something then resat the MCAT and applied to medical school. I had already put myself through undergrad and could not see going though a masters program just to get into medical school so I gave up. The only good thing I can say about this is that it was the final straw for me with my Mom. She has never had any hold/control over me since – even to this day. That is probably one of the reasons that I am able to live with her now when she needs help!
You know, as I write this, the thing that strikes me is that I never asked for any guidance. What I said above about having to get a masters degree was my own assumption. I don't know if it was true. I don't think I really researched it. Maybe I could have sat the test a third time and just explained the other two in an application. I don't know.
I didn't know to ask for guidance. I didn't even know that guidance and advice was available. I had attended The Evergreen State College for undergrad. The school was still quite young and did not have any kind of adviser program for students. I knew nothing of students at other schools having faculty advisers or student services that were available.
Would I have listened to guidance? Would I have recognized it as help? Or would I have rebelled thinking it was someone trying to control me? I don't know. The story above illustrates why I had a pretty strong rebellious streak!
But there is even more to it than just a rebellious streak. When I think back to my younger years I always felt that I had to muscle through; that I was on my own. Well, I was. I left high school a year early; put myself through college. I had begged my parents to let me take a course not offered at my city's high school which would have made it so I could attend one of the other area schools but they would not sign the papers. Nor would they come to bat for me to help make things better at the public high school I was attending. I was on my own. Even in my early years of school when my Mom would talk with a teacher they usually both ended up angry at each other and I was the big loser.
Back quite a ways in the history of this blog I wrote about the reason for the name Dancing Upside Down. Yes, in part it is about recovering from a brain injury, but the original impetus for the blog and the name was thinking about how one becomes a "Late Bloomer" if one has missed out on blooming earlier in their adult life.
I think there are a lot of us out here in the world who did not get to bloom early or in an optimal time period. Some of us haven't ever bloomed, others only had a very brief flowering before being hit by a frost.
I named the blog one night when I was out on a long walk. Part of what was churning around in me on that walk were thoughts and feelings that had arisen from having recently watched the video of Randy Pausch's "Last Lecture", titled Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams. (If you have not watched it . . . do so. It is worth every minute of its runtime.) I was very moved and deeply affected by that talk.
Randy Pausch was an early bloomer and it seems like he continually bloomed the rest of his life, up until it ended prematurely this past July due to pancreatic cancer.
In the talk Randy goes through his list of goals that he had as a child and how he achieved them He talks about the important roles of his parents and mentors. As Randy says in the talk, he "was blessed to be born to two incredible people". In another talk he called it "winning the parent lottery". He goes on to tell stories about Coach Graham from high school football and especially about Andries van Dam, PhD; Randy's undergraduate adviser at Brown University. Randy was raised receiving guidance and therefore was also taught how to receive it. It is the cultural legacy that was gifted to him by his family of origin.
What comes to mind here is a whole section from Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. A large portion of the book is dedicated to presenting a case, in Gladwell's masterful story telling, of why cultural legacy matters and the impact it has on a persons life. He calls the coaching that Randy Pausch describes in his talk "the strategy of concerted cultivation" which produces a sense of entitlement. Gladwell goes on to say "When we talk about the advantages of class [the cultural advantage] is in a large part what we mean." Yes a child is better off because he/she is wealthier and goes to a better school, "but also because – and this perhaps is even more critical – the sense of entitlement that he/she has been taught is an attitude perfectly suited to succeeding in the modern world."
So what can we middle aged folks do? Drowning in a sea of regret is not productive. Most of us still probably have a good thirty years left. I am sure some 80 year olds look at people in their 50's and think "Oh to be young again!" Now I am older and wiser and KNOW that I have to create my future. I cannot sit around and wait for things to come to me.
My cousin Amit just started law school this year at the age of 51. It is something he has always wanted to do. He is loving it and doing well. I wonder if medical schools accept people in their 50s? I wonder if I really want to do that at my age? Right now I am living in a retirement village surrounded by people playing and loving it! But reality is that I cannot afford to retire – probably not until I am 80. So I might as well do something I love for the next 25 years. I wonder if my brain could handle medical school. Studying for the MCAT would be good brain exercise no matter what. Hmmm . . .