Turning Regret into Inspiration

by stryson

It’s natural to look back and feel some measure of regret for certain instances in one’s life. At least, if it isn’t natural, it’s certainly common. We often learn difficult lessons in ways that are uncomfortable in hindsight, and we cringe and long to tell our former selves how to handle the situation better, how to get more out of our lives. I don’t know if these hindsight visions are particularly tailored for other people, but I find myself, as an educator, focusing more on school-related regrets.

My original degree was not in education; I came to find my profession of choice after graduating and experiencing the “real world,” which was, of course, vastly different than high school or college me had supposed.  Don’t be misled; I don’t regret my choice in college or degree in the slightest. I learned a staggering amount in college, both in life lessons and in book lessons. My college of choice, a tiny liberal arts college, was  the perfect environment for all of the self-discoveries I managed during those four years. I had safety nets and an effective support system. Still, I cringe at how ineffectively I spent huge swaths of time at school. I had poor planning skills and often finished papers and projects at the last minute, rushing through them and compromising their quality. I often took the maximum number of absences a class would allow, and I totally manipulated extensions where they were available. I had so many opportunities to delve deeply into my subject matter, yet I often skimmed the surface, content with just what was enough. Why?

The first, and most obvious, reason was a lack of maturity. Of course, I would’ve argued against that assertion tooth and nail at the time – I swore I was more mature than most of my peers. In some ways, I had more worldly experience than some of my cohorts, but maturity in the sense of  being ready to buckle down and tackle academia? Not particularly. I spent hours upon hours in the library, and I was terribly proud of that. However, I could’ve cut those hours in half had I not spent so much time on coffee breaks, checking my email, and chatting on AIM. I hesitate to label this my big downfall, though; I grew a lot in an emotional sense during that period, and much of the socialization that went on either in the coffee shop or out on the library stoop was a huge contributor to that growth.

The second underlying cause of my slackerdom during college was an excessive amount of emotional tumult in my life, stemming from several sources. I’m not talking about romantic entanglements budding and imploding, which they did with some regularity, because that’s a factor in most college students’ lives.  I had an unfortunate mixture of sometimes debilitating panic attacks (I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder at ten years old) and strife from the home front. My parents later divorced, but much of the discord that led to the divorce was at a rolling boil during this period in my life. I’ve always swung drastically between defending my younger self in regard to this situation (“No one could handle that sort of stress!”) and chastising myself for not handling it better (“You were 120 miles away from that, you should have been able to ignore it and focus on your work.”). In truth, the “right” answer is somewhere between the two, if there is an answer at all for the situation.

Lastly, and least correctable, as far as I can tell, among my missteps on my educational path is a personality quirk of mine. This “quirk,” (I specifically hesitate to call it a flaw) was rampant among my cohorts; it’s a large part of the personality type attracted to my alma mater. I consistently, almost systematically, bite off way more than I can chew. I enter every situation with disproportionately high hopes. I took near the credit maximum every semester of college and participated in countless organizations. To top it off, I worked throughout college. During one semester of my senior year, I specifically remember my Tuesday schedules being 22 hours long. I always want to do everything. I juggle things deftly for a period of time, but inevitably, I’ll slip in one area, and everything starts to unravel. I continue to do this, to an extent, even though I should know better. I cling to phrases like “well rounded” and “multi-talented” and  run them to their extremes.

All that said, meditations on one’s missteps have their place, but what positive can I pull out of shamefacedly looking back at the past?  I may not be able to change my former self, but I can try to apply those insights to the students I try to reach in the current moment. My own mistakes can help me recognize patterns and warning signs in my own students.  At least, that is what I aspire to do with these lessons.  On the whole, I think I succeed, primarily in Underlying Cause Two, the massive anxiety.  In the population I teach, anxieties run rampant, and I try to add a measure of patience specifically for that consideration. In a broader sense, I think the biggest lesson that educators can take from individual struggles is that of having compassion for their charges.  There are many teachers out there who are already doing this; I can think of many in my own history.  If their praises are not unsung, they’re at least sadly under-sung.  Without caring teachers and professors whom I could trust, my list of regrets could have been much, much longer.

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One Comment to “Turning Regret into Inspiration”

  1. I think you can well be proud of the lessons you’ve learned and taken to heart. One of the greatest skills in life is learning to turn a negative into a positive, or meeting a challenge with creativity, or as you put it, drawing inspiration from regrets.

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