The hullaballoo over the first inaugural song for our newly crowned (because I’m still not convinced he was really elected) President got me thinking about one of the more wistful lines of “My Way”: “Regrets, I’ve had a few.”
Actually, I’ve been thinking about regrets for a while now, ever since I retired professionally in October. I’ve been struck by how few of them I really have, and how lucky that makes me. Looking back over my life and career (so closely intertwined for so long), I wonder why I stressed so much. Unlike so many other boomers, who’ve found themselves cast adrift in their 50s by age discrimination and other idiocies, everything turned out fine.
Regret #1: Not attending a real liberal arts college. After winning a national essay-writing contest in high school, I received invitations from a lot of small eastern and Midwestern liberal arts colleges, including Oberlin and Kenyon, asking me to apply. I wish I’d pursued these a little more assiduously. As I’ve said before, though, a Stanford diploma deserves no sympathies.
Regret #2: Quitting. Another of my college faux pas related to the school newspaper. I was a prolific writer in the entertainment section, writing dozens of movie reviews and other articles, so it seemed only logical to promote me to editor of the department the following year. What a disaster. I was way out of my depth; I once cut inches off a review of a Journey concert to keep my own review of Gone In 60 Seconds intact (much to my embarrassment now). Worse, my schoolwork started to suffer, so I quit after only a few weeks. The paper’s editor begged me to reconsider, and in retrospect, I wished I’d figured out a way to make it work. Especially since the guy who replaced me now works at the New York Times.
Regret #3: Not spending a semester overseas. I was such a lily-livered wimp that I was actually scared of the idea of going to Cliveden or Florence. I mean, they spoke English in Cliveden, so what would have been the big deal? As it turned out, the first country I ever visited outside of North America was Morocco, where I went on a travel-writing assignment. That probably doesn’t deserve any sympathies either.
Regret #4: Not getting comfortable with computers sooner. I was such a lily-livered wimp that I was actually convinced I would never understand personal computers. Even though writing about them represented the late 20th-century version of the gold rush, I hung on like grim death to my dream of being either a travel writer or a screenwriter. After that dream faded, I went on to write about everything from games to mainframes and chips that ran them for thirty years.
Regret #5: Athletic events. On October 17, 1989, thanks to the largesse of the publisher of the magazine I worked for at the time, I was sitting in Candlestick Park waiting for game 3 of the World Series to begin. There was a slight interruption, which we now refer to as the Loma Prieta earthquake, which rendered Candlestick temporarily unusable not only for the Giants-A’s game but for the 49ers-Patriots game the following weekend.
The latter game was moved to Stanford Stadium, and a friend of mine offered me tickets. What did I do instead? I went to the office, having missed work both the day of the World Series and the following day while we waited for the office to be declared safe. You know how they say no one ever sat up on their death bed and said they wished they’d spent more time at the office? I am the idiot who spent more time at the office. (The 49ers won, 37-20.)
Regret #6: Philandering. For most of my dating years, I seemed to be under the impression that monogamy was actually spelled m-o-n-o-t-o-n-y, and I hurt a lot of women when that particular illiteracy – spelled i-d-i-o-c-y – came to light. I’ll just chalk that up to the aforementioned emotional immaturity and be thankful that my spelling improved when I got married.
Regret #7: Trusting the future. My friend Andrew frequently reminds me that the philosophy of mine that he loves the most is “live life according to a theory of abundance.” I didn’t always have this philosophy, unfortunately. In 2002, just after the storied technology downturn, I was out of work and collecting unemployment insurance (and damn happy to have it). It was a gloomy time, but a medical-school friend of Monica’s had taken a fellowship in New Zealand. I have always regretted – especially in light of the way my career subsequently improved – not just putting that very expensive jaunt on a credit card and heading south to see them.
Dear Abby once said that you can measure a man’s character by the things he’s ashamed of. I don’t know if regret and shame are the same, but they’re pretty close. Playwright Arthur Miller once wrote, “Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.” I hope these are the right ones, because they’re sure the ones I’ve learned from.