We’re constantly told to live in the moment, right? “Carpe diem,” “no day but today,” “today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present.” So I was surprised to see a call for women’s stories of regret for this site. It feels unnatural to write about regret, like we’re not supposed to think about it, let alone dwell on or examine it unless it’s to find a silver lining. But I only needed a few seconds to tick off several gigantic regrets that continue to have an impact on my life, ones where a silver lining has been damn near impossible to find. But it’s important to acknowledge where I’ve messed up, hopefully using these regrets as fuel for motivation to change and grow and not make the same mistakes again.
1) Not taking my student loan payments seriously. Like countless others, I took out a loan to get my bachelor’s, and I graduated with a 10-year repayment plan with monthly installments that increased a bit every few years. I knew it was coming, but I still wasn’t prepared for that monetary obligation. After graduation, I put my loan and credit debt on the back burner. I had a low-paying, right-out-of-college job and figured if I could just make the monthly minimum payments I could forget about finances and get on with building my adult life, which, at that time, meant having fun with my friends and taking advantage of sweet, post-college freedom.
Unfortunately, the 10-year repayment plan has ballooned into a 20-year repayment plan, and I’ve snowballed into a cycle of debt that is painfully hard to break. I don’t regret the memories I made over the years, including the tattoo I got on a crazy vacation in Miami, but I do regret backing myself into a financial cul-de-sac. A few less parties, a few less drinks and meaningless expenses could have gone a long way toward improving my financial future.
2) Letting myself get fat. Well, I didn’t just let myself get fat – I was a willing participant in the process. I gained most of my weight in my early 20’s and I had the mindset that haunts most young people, thinking, “I’m young enough that I can deal with [insert problem] later.”
I regret not nipping my unhealthy habits in the bud when I initially went up a size or two; I regret not being more alarmed when I gained 15 pounds, then 25, then 40. Instead I pushed the mounting problem aside, which was not fair to my now 34-year-old self. I allowed the problem to become bigger than ever before, and because it’s my body, there is literally no hiding from it.
I have tried several weight loss programs, and even became a gym rat at one point, with varying amounts of success, but keeping the weight off is the real challenge, and it will be a battle I fight the rest of my life. If I could do it all over again, I would never have let things get so out of hand in the first place.
3) Smoking. I know, I know, it’s incredibly vile and disgusting. And I should really know given that both my parents were heavy smokers throughout my childhood – continuously puffing indoors and in the car with the window cracked. I always, always hated it when I was younger and I swore I’d never try it…and I regret I ever did.
But it was college and I crumbled under the desire to socialize and meet people. The smokers all connected with each other quickly, especially during the winter months when going out for a smoke in sub-zero temperatures was a badge of honor, and their conversations seemed to flow more naturally with a cigarette in hand. I succumbed and became the classic example of a social smoker who turned into a legitimate one. While losing weight or recovering from debt is tough, quitting smoking may be the hardest. And boy would I love to go back and not buy that first pack of menthols (yuck!).
Then there are the second-tier regrets, the “what if’s” that creep in from time to time at random moments and give me pause. I’ll be getting ready to head to a Twins game when I think, “Huh, I wish I would have stuck with piano lessons. It’d be so cool to be able to play an instrument. Why didn’t I practice more?” Or I’ll be doing laundry and think, “So-and-so was a great high school boyfriend. Why did I dump him again? Was I really that shallow? He was so sweet. I totally missed out there.”
Ironically enough, I had an abortion five years ago and it’s something I don't regret at all. You’d think I would, given how much stigma there is surrounding abortion. It seems rare to find women who’ve had one who haven’t been traumatized by it.
For me, it remains one of the wisest decisions I've ever made for myself. Not the unprotected sex part – I do regret that – but I don’t regret doing what was right for me, my body and my mental health. Every abortion story is personal, and mine isn’t without its share of tears and drama and guilt, but ultimately, I’m incredibly grateful that I had the resources, and really, the luxury, of being able to make that decision for myself, a decision I expected to regret but never have.
In any case, my regrets aren’t buried in the past; they’re rooted in me and echo throughout my present situation. I meandered far off any planned paths I had, thinking it would be easy to course-correct later, and now there’s no running from my choices – only dealing with them.
Good thing I still have (hopefully) many years ahead to continue growing, learning and finding my way.