Thoughts on Regret

Regret is a pervasive and terrifying thing.

The idea that you can look back on your life, on decisions that you made at the time, and come to the conclusion that you made the wrong decision. That the path you chose is thin and winding and leads nowhere, and there’s no way to get to the path that you wish you had taken now. Because now that you are on this path, now that you realize that it is impossible to turn around and walk back, now you know that that other path was a much better path to take.

I know many people who have felt this way. I know many people who have gotten lost to this feeling, have become bitter and depressed because of it. And for a brief time, even I found this feeling creeping up on me.

I regretted the fact that I allowed my depression to cripple me for a year.

I regretted the school that I had chosen upon going into post-secondary.

I regretted things that I couldn’t possibly have changed or even chosen, things that I was born into. Things that simply were. Things that I could only curse fate or the universe of God or whatever you believe in for, because only that could have been responsible for it.

And you know what I began to realize? There’s absolutely no good to be found in regret.

Once you start down a path, you can’t turn around and change your mind, that’s true. You can only move forward, not back, and it’s important for you to keep that in mind – and one of the reasons why it is so important is because you can still move forward. You don’t have to stay on the path you are on. Just because you have started on it, it doesn’t mean you have to continue. You can change your mind, you can start on a new path, you can cut across and cheat your way onto a new road. Your past is set in stone, but your future is free. Your future is something that you still can change.

And often times, we make the decisions that we do for a reason, and it’s too easy to forget that reason when we have grown and learned new things. At one time, I regretted allowing myself to be crippled by depression, but I forget that I was crippled by it because I was deeply, intensely depressed, and I didn’t understand that at the time. I understand that now. I know how to cope with that now. But I didn’t at the time, and that’s why I made the choice that I did. It’s important for us to remember that, because it makes it easier to forgive ourselves for the decisions that we made in the past.

More than that, we should never regret the bad times because, often times, the bad times need to happen. Nobody’s life is constantly perfect – we all need to experience pain because we learn from pain. From pain, we are given the opportunity to find our strength. The bad times teach us lessons which we can then take with us into the good times, which we can then use to teach others. Maybe I did lose a year of my life to depression, but when I hear someone else voicing the same thoughts that tormented me during those years, I know what they are going through and I can try to help them. So why would I regret any of it?

Regret can be a very harmful thing. It can become something that overwhelms us, that depresses us, but it can also be a good sign. We regret things when we realize that we now know more than we did then, and that if we were to make the same decision now, we would have chosen differently. Regret is a sign of growth. So do not linger in your regret. Be proud of the fact that you have grown, and take that growth into the future with you. After all, the future is the only place where you can take it now.

A Failure in The Education System

When I was in high school, I wouldn’t have defined myself as very good at school. I mean, I did alright. I passed all my classes, and I did so with mostly B’s and, depending on the course, C’s. But I wasn’t what you would call a perfect student, by any stretch of the imagination.

I dropped math the moment that I could, because it became abundantly clear to me that I was making absolutely no progress in it. My science teacher hated me, proven by the fact that she spoke to me as though I fit into the Dumb Blonde stereotype. And when I tried to continue studying French, my teacher gave me a look of surprise, as though she honestly didn’t understand why I even bothered anymore. And none of this would have bothered me quite so much as it did if it weren’t for the fact that I was friends with all of the smart kids in high school. The kids who were looking forward to careers in science. The kids who all the teachers both knew and loved. Once, one of my closest friends in high school told me that he loved math, and I was baffled as to how that was even possible.

“Because it’s structured,” he said. “It’s always the same. There’s always a right answer.”

“Then what’s the fun?” I wondered.

And as much as this might give the impression that I was terrible in school, I really wasn’t. I just haven’t focused on the right subjects yet. I got straight A’s all throughout four years of English, and high praises on all of my English projects because they were creative and ‘thought-provoking’. I loved photography, although everyone laughed when I told them and accused me of taking it because it was a ‘skip class’. And some of my absolutely favourite memories from high school took place in my drama class. These were my scenes; these were the places where I thrived. These were the places where I felt not only skilled, but intelligent.

From high school, I went on to university, taking on a major in English, and I don’t think that it’s dishonest to say that I thrived there. I did so well that one of my professors encouraged me to go on and pursue a graduate degree. But here’s the thing: I still can’t do even the most basic math. I can tell you all about the metaphors in the Great Gatsby, but I can’t tell you what 40% of anything is. I can list off the greatest and most influential science fiction writers, but the closest I ever came to failing a class was in astronomy. And that boy who told me that he loved math because there was always a right answer cannot write an essay about literature to save his life.

And there are some who will say that, between me and the boy, one of us has a set of skills that will come more in handy in life than the other. But personally, I think that both set of skills are necessary. That boy has the ability to do his taxes well, to calculate numbers quickly, and I have the ability to write stories and communicate ideas clearly. They are different skills, certainly, but they both have their place in the world. And they are both stem from very different types of intellect.

Everyone has a different sort of intellect – their own unique sort. You might be able to excel in gym, but you cannot write an essay. Maybe you are good with machinery, but you are terrible at music. It doesn’t matter – it is all amazing and it is all useful, in one way or another.

And the problem with our education system as it is set up right now is that students are expected to excel in very specific environments, when not everyone can. And this is especially difficult for students that are not particularly skilled in the areas that school encourages – math, science, gym, etc. Students who are more artistically inclined – the musicians, the painters, the artists, sort of fall to the side, neglected by a system that tells them that they are stupid because they cannot add or subtract or multiply. And sometimes, this message can get to kid’s heads, making them feel like they are stupid. It certainly did for me – I quickly grew to hate math and science because my teachers regularly made me feel like I couldn’t do anything, like I was limited somehow. It was the other subjects, the ones that I was good at, that proved them wrong. I wasn’t stupid because I couldn’t do what they asked – I was just skilled in other departments. And you are not stupid because you can’t do something specific. We all have our strengths and we all have our weaknesses, and the problem with the education system is that it expects all of us to be strong in the same departments. It does not provide opportunities for kids who are better in the arts to develop their abilities, and in that regard, it is the one that fails us, not the other way around.

Moving Through Fear

I was about ten years old when I decided that I wanted to lead a fairly difficult life. I was sitting in my school’s library at the time, listening to my librarian read to my class some story about a little girl who wanted to be a writer more than anything in the world, and it dawned on me then that that was something that a person could be. That at one point in their lives, J.K. Rowling and Stephen King were once sitting where I was sitting, listening to their librarian tell stories to their classes, and that someone somewhere would have to take their place someday. Why couldn’t that person be me? Why couldn’t I be the next great writer?

Twelves years has passed since then, and I think that it’s needless to say that a lot has changed. It’s a hell of a lot easier to say that you’d be willing to live on a diet of cold beans straight out of the can if it got you to a writing career eventually when you aren’t actually faced with it, when you’re ten years and still dependant on your parents to tell you if you can even leave the house. But twelve years of standing by the belief that I am going to be a writer, whether I like it or not, has strengthened my resolve quite a bit, and brought me to a place where I know that I absolutely cannot give up on it, come what may. Which is an amazing gift to have, because the twelve years that has passed since then have not gone by without an immense amount of fear and moments where I completely lacked any motivation.

I always knew that I wanted to be a writer. That was my goal, the thing to which I set my mind, that I was going to do. And there have been many points in the last twelve years where I found myself wondering why?

I found myself wondering why when people began pestering me about my progress – or, in many cases, lack thereof. “Have you submitted anything to be published yet?” “Have you set up a website for yourself yet?” “Have you talked to this person? How about that person?” “Do you really know what you’re doing?” No. I had no fucking clue what I was doing. I wasn’t born into a family of professional writers, I didn’t know anyone who had ever done this before, and more than that, when I was being asked these questions, I was either a) a teenager, or b) immensely, cripplingly depressed, either state of mind translating to the simple fact that I wasn’t emotionally ready. And not being emotionally ready and being constantly bombarded with questions of why haven’t you done this yet made me wonder if I really could do this. There was just so much, too much for me to do. It overwhelmed me. It made me wonder why bother, because I wasn’t doing anything, I would never do anything, and my dreams of being a writer would never amount to anything because I was such an utter and complete failure.

But I kept on writing, and in my own way, I kept on making my personal progress. Not because I was brave or because I was intentionally overcoming any fears or anything like that, but because when I was ten years old, I decided that I was going to be a writer, and so what else was I if not that?

And again, I found myself wondering why when my high school teachers questioned my choice constantly.

“So what do you want to be when you graduate?”

“Well, I’ve always wanted to be a writer.”

“That’s not very practical. You realize that, right? Writers don’t make a lot of money. Maybe you should consider something else, something like journalism, maybe?”

I had this conversation again and again, all throughout my high school career, and there were times where I could easily ignore it. Sometimes I’d tell my teachers that they were right and that I’d consider other career options, but I never really meant it – I only said it to make them stop pestering me. The truth was that I was going to be a writer. I was going to be broke and working another job for what would most likely turn out to be the rest of my life, but I was going to be a writer nonetheless. There were moments where I’d have confidence in that. And then there were moments, especially as my depression worsened and my motivation waned, where I seriously considered maybe giving writing up, maybe focusing my energy on something that would make me a bit more money in the long run. After all, that would make the most sense, right? We live in a society run by money, where nothing is available if you do not have it, not even food, so why would I choose not to do everything in my power to get it? That would be the logical thing, right? Why was I subjecting myself to such hardship when the option not to was available?

But still, I kept on writing. I kept writing because when I was ten, I decided that I was going to be a writer, and that thought was enough to keep me going. I pushed through, I forced myself to make progress, and little by little, I started to take steps forward. Though my fear tried to hold me back, to keep me stationary, I had one thought to keep in mind, one belief that I held so dear that I would not let anything keep me back from it. Not my depression. Not my lack of motivation. Not even my fear.

I was going to be a writer.

But not everyone has a belief that they hold that strong. Many people find themselves confronted with fear, and they have a very difficult time moving around it. Sometimes they can’t move around it. Sometimes they remain stationary for long periods of time, unable to overcome their fear, because they have nothing telling them that they should. But the thing is, people cannot live their lives that way. As human beings, we need to grow and learn and develop, and in order to do that, we need to accept change that is scary. We need to move forward.

And I get it – it is difficult to accept change sometimes, especially if we are not emotionally prepared. Sometimes, we do need to make our progress slowly, to take our lives at our own pace. But we still need to keep moving. Because if we stay where we are, then nothing ever changes. If we stay where we are, we can never grow. I can be a writer even if I only take tiny steps toward it every day, but I cannot be a writer if I never try.

Future Planning: Why I Want to Be a Graduate Student

In my four years at university, I heard the same story told over and over again.

“I didn’t intend to go to graduate school,” they always said. “I was just going to get my bachelors, and then I was going to go out into the world and work, so that’s what I did. I graduated and I got a job, and I absolutely hated it. I hated the nine to five lifestyle. I hated how tedious it all was, how monotonous and unending. I felt like a machine, like a lifeless robot doing the same task over and over and over again, day after day. So I decided not to do that anymore. I decided that I was going to go back to school and continue my studies, and I was going to do something more with my life. I was going to think. I was going to be challenged.”

The first time that I heard this story, I was in first year, and all I could think was, yeah, you were most certainly being challenged. You were working your ass off for six to eight years, and that is a goddamn long time to be in school. The last time that I heard this story, I was in fourth year, and the length of time didn’t sound so bad to me anymore – I just wasn’t entirely sure if their truth was my own. After all, I had challenge and thought in my life already – I had my writing. That would never change. So long as I lived, regardless of what I was doing, whether I was waiting tables or scrubbing toilets, I would always be able to go home and work on something that I knew was worthwhile. So the way I saw it, I didn’t have anything to worry about. Their story wasn’t going to be mine.

I haven’t heard this story since then, but I find myself thinking about it a lot now. I’ve been out of school for a grand total of a month now, and a lot has changed since then. I got myself one of those tedious and monotonous nine to five jobs that I was so strongly warned against. I thought I wouldn’t mind it so much, thought that the meaninglessness of my day job would pale in comparison to the meaningfulness of my writing. Turns out, I was completely wrong. Turns out, I’m living that very same story that I was told time and time again in university.

I miss university. I miss being surrounded by people who share my passion. I miss having in-depth discussions about literature with others. I miss being challenged with digging up obscure research, even though the thought would literally have brought me to tears from the stress just over a month ago. And maybe I’m just being sentimental. Maybe I only miss university so much right now because I know that I’m not going back come September. But regardless, I miss university enough to have decided that, after this long, boring year off that I have ahead of me, I will be enrolling in graduate school.

I don’t want to settle for small, in any aspect of my life. I don’t want to not care about what I’m doing. I want my whole life to burn bright and hot and hard, every single aspect of it. And although I have heard that story time and time again while I was an undergraduate student, I think I finally understand what it means.

What Four Years At Post-Secondary Bought Me

Today, I went for a nice, long walk in the sun. There was a slight wind, but otherwise it was perfectly pleasant out. The world was bright, the grass was green, and along the way I passed by a sign that promised a “bright future” for those who attend post-secondary. I didn’t think I was angry at the time. I didn’t even realize that anything was really wrong with me until the sight of this sign made my lip turn up, and the next thing I knew I was silently screaming at those mocking words, “fuck you!

I tell you this only because I think it perfectly sums up how I’ve been feeling lately.

Because here’s the thing: I’ve been to post-secondary. I worked long and hard for four fucking years. I sacrificed my mental health, anguished through tears and headaches, and all of this was supposed to buy me happiness. It was supposed to make me smart and successful, but all it did was give me a passion for books and context in a world obsessed with showing me pictures of their snot-nosed brats who I honestly couldn’t care less about. It bought me a meaningless job doing nothing, just wasting my life away in exchange for money. Money that I need, because in this world, there is no life without money. In this world, money is the most important thing. In this world, money is more important than people and happiness. I learned that much in my four years in post-secondary.

In my first year at post-secondary, I hated the grey world of stone and concrete that I was forced to live in in order to get my degree. Now I miss it. I miss the trash and the graffiti and the controlled nature because at least that world was honest. That was a world of people and all their ugly, capitalist ideals – it was naked and true and unashamed. It wasn’t like this sunshiny hellhole with its fake grass and its identical houses and its claim to be closer to nature than that world despite the fact that it really isn’t. It’s still a world of people, it’s just a world of people that want to be better than what they are, so rather than changing anything, really, truly changing anything, they just bury their shame beneath plastic smiles and manicured lawns and immaculate gardens.

And I’m tired of them. I’m tired of doing nothing. I’m tired of being nothing. Four years at post-secondary was supposed to set me up to be better than that, but all it did was raise me to a greater height so that I hit the ground harder when it let me go.