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November 08, 2001: If: No regrets

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If Collab - November: If you were given one cosmic 'get out of jail free' card that would allow you to undo one act from your past, which would you use it on? What outcome would you hope to result from that decision?

There was a time in my life when I did a lot of wishing for exactly that sort of thing - the one-chance time machine that would allow me to go back and redo the past. I knew exactly when I'd start over and what I would do differently: freshman year in college. I'd study. I'd find help for inorganic chemistry. I'd focus more and do whatever it took so that by the end of the year I wouldn't be sitting there with a little note saying "Subject to Disqualification By the Dean" that I knew I had to show my parents when I went home that summer.

For a very long time afterwards, I looked back on that year with regret. My poor grades that year and my delay in learning how to study effectively, or at least get some tutoring help kept my overall GPA low, so that even two years of hard work prior to graduation couldn't pull it up to anything more than a 3.1. The too-low GPA meant I had to spent two years jumping through hoops to get *into* graduate school, and then once there, I quickly realized that although I didn't know what I wanted to do, I knew for sure that this wasn't it. Perhaps in desperation, I turned to my original college goal and toyed with the idea of applying for veterinary school. I was quickly dissuaded of that notion, however. The advisor was politely and apologetically blunt. My disastrous grades were back to haunt me yet again, and I hadn't a shot in hell of being admitted.

I used to fantasize about going back somehow, and changing things. It certainly wasn't the only mistake I've ever made, but it was the biggest and the one that had the most far-reaching consequences. I wished and dreamed for the ability to reinvent the past for ten long years. It wasn't until I left graduate school and research behind to see if I could make it as a database nerd that I finally stopped hoping for the impossible. Because my desperate career switch dumped me into something I actually had aptitude for, those college grades no longer mattered.

During the decade when I wished for that second chance, I was absolutely certain that somehow, if only I could reinvent the past, I'd be in a much better place. In retrospect it seems a bit nave of me. Better grades would not have made graduate school any more bearable. I loved the writing and the teaching, but I knew such a career could only come with a doctorate, and that meant research - the part that bored me literally to tears. And even if I'd had the grades to get into veterinary school, I realize now that I wouldn't have been happy there either. I came as close as I ever want to veterinary medicine during my years as a foster home to orphan kittens, and while the experience was an incredible one, I'm not sure I could handle a lifetime of what I went through with those fragile little creatures. No matter how much I hoped it would, death never gets any easier when you're the one who has to make the final decision.

Perhaps if I'd made better choices that first year of college things would have been a bit better in the short term, but in the long term, I'm not honestly sure it would have made much of a difference. Besides, the disappointment and difficulties that resulted from doing so poorly in those early college years helped to shape how I react to things today.

If you'd offered me that 'get out of jail free' card five years ago, I would have jumped at the chance, no question. But now? No thanks. There's nothing in my past so horrible anymore that I would really want to change.

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