Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Missed-opportunity regrets? Stop dwelling and move on
Chicago: How is one supposed to handle regrets about missed opportunities? I graduated from college two years ago, and I never got to have those fun college experiences because my major depression made me withdraw from everyone and everything. I just feel so sad that I missed out on what were supposed to be the best years of my life because of this damn disease, which just makes me spiral even deeper into a funk.
Carolyn: You handle missed-opportunity regrets the way you handle any other regrets. Fix what you can, learn what you can, and keep trying to make the best of the life you've got.
As for college regrets specifically, you say damn disease, but I say damn "best years of your life" expectations. Expectations are often too vague and elusive to fight head-on, yet they insinuate themselves into your entire experience. They make you feel bad, then make you feel stupid for feeling bad.
The only thing I feel safe saying about college is that, yes, for some it can be a life pinnacle (and I'd pity them, frankly). But in most cases even rollicking good times can be complicated by some hard lessons, cringe-worthy behavior and pointed regrets.
For many others the peer angle is a luxury, when costs or age or health (as you know) or other factors rule out the possibility of even partaking in the peer fest.
So, what now? You do what everyone else does when bumped onto a different path than you expected: Decide a course based on where you are and where you want to go, and keep traveling.
Dwelling on what you missed is rarely productive. It's easy to think everyone's at a big party to which you weren't invited (figuratively speaking), but I think you'll find upon close inspection that's never really true.
Anonymous: Re: Chicago: Or: Figure out what it is that you WOULD have enjoyed, and do it now. Summer travel? Join the Peace Corps, take a sabbatical and backpack Europe, drive cross-country for fun. Political activism? Find the right organization. Hanging out late into the night with friends? Live in a group house.
I can't go back and change things, but I can get what I missed if I am intentional about it.
Carolyn: Good point, thanks.
Anonymous 2: Re: Chicago: FWIW, I immersed myself in the "b/peer culture" in college, and I often feel like I'm the one who missed opportunities. I didn't spend nearly enough time on my actual education or on nonsocial extracurriculars.
I think a lot of people feel that way no matter what their experience was, because college is the first time you are really able to make your own choices about how to live your life, and we're all probably a little unprepared for that.
Carolyn: True. It's not just the newness of the freedom — it's also that there are SO many choices. Missing an opportunity feels like a mistake, taking on too much feels like a mistake, doing too little feels like a mistake, focusing on the wrong thing feels like a mistake — but that's only if you look at these opportunities as finite. The ready access might expire upon graduation, but the opportunities don't.