January 1, 2012

If I Had It To Do Over Again

There are questions we all ask ourselves at some point: " What if I could have a do-over on some of the choices I made in my life? What would I do differently?" Since life doesn't really offer such a correction, is there a benefit in asking? Yes, because it helps us see patterns in our decision making. There is the opportunity to learn from past choices to improve the ones we will make during our satisfying retirement. As 2012 starts, here is my look back at a few things I wish came with a do-over.


My life has been rather ordinary in most respects. I was raised in a typical 1950's-60's American suburban environment by two parents who loved each other and their three sons. I went to college, got married, had two daughters, and built a successful career in an industry I had fallen in love with at age 12.
Along the way I suffered the loss of a favorite uncle, a set of grandparents, and in-laws. Just over a year ago my mom died at 84. I don't think anything I have experienced is extraordinary. But, that doesn't mean there weren't a few times along that journey that hindsight suggests a different approach would have been wiser.

 I wasted my time at college. I went right after high school because that is what one does. Also, during my freshman year I drew a low lottery number (remember the draft?) and didn't relish the idea of being sent to Vietnam.  I graduated in four years with a degree in a field that had nothing to do with my career. In looking back I clearly wasted the opportunities, and my parents' money.

College, for me, was not a time when I allowed myself to be intellectually challenged. I took the courses I needed to, but was never fired up by most of them. I did feel a spark during a few urban study courses, but never fanned that flame. I doubt if I went to the library more than a half dozen times in 4 years. Since this was well before computers and the Internet, I have no idea how I put together the papers and essays required to graduate.


The cliché that college is wasted on the young is certainly true in my case. I was so focused on my radio career that classes were an interruption. I was the president of my fraternity for a year but I did nothing with that experience. I made no lifelong friends nor did I do more than to keep the place functioning. I rarely dated and enjoyed no new cultural experiences. My college years would be a productive do-over.


My business eventually died because I stopped growing. In my case it was a business that died, but the effect of standing still can be applied to any part of life. At the peak of my consultancy I was serving over 30 radio stations single-handedly and had worked for over 200 other stations at one time. That meant constant travel, spending each weekend catching up on all the office work, and re-packing for a flight out Monday morning. I allowed myself no time for two crucial elements of any business: learning new things and marketing.


I was content to continue to repeat the same mantra even as the radio industry was changing right before my eyes. I didn't take the time to think about new approaches because I was too busy keeping the cash flow up. I had no time to use my standing in the industry and the successes of my clients to generate new business. I became the worst thing you can become in life: complacent. I milked my present success dry until there was nothing left. While things have turned out well, I wish the business had continued for another 3 or 4 years.


I was a absentee husband for too many years. At the time I believed the message that if I made a good living and provided well for my family I was doing my job. If I resisted the lure of years on the road and stayed faithful to my vows and my wife no one could ask for more.


Wrong. While I was spending 170 nights each year in hotels, my wife was raising two girls, keeping the household functioning, and getting everything tidy for the return of her hard-working husband every Friday night. And my response? I looked for the smallest thing "wrong" to complain and point out to the family. Then, I was locked in my office working all weekend on everything that was piling up: bill paying, writing reports, picking new music to recommend, and critiquing tape recordings of the DJs on client radio stations. I helped out around the house but only if it didn't get in the way of my "real" job.

Once I stopped living that lifestyle, it was clear to me how much I had abused my family's love and patience. While it took several years of retirement to get my life balance back, I can never repay my wife and daughters for sticking with me through my "jerk" period and carrying more than their share of the load.



I could easily come up with several more re-dos but I'll save them for another time. The goal of this exercise is to look at mistakes or oversights and hopefully learn from them. I can honestly say that the three mistakes did result in my changing: to become dedicated to continual self-education and learning, to keep growing with new challenges and never allow myself to become stale, and to make every attempt to become the partner I am supposed to be to my wife and family.

I am ready to face a brand new year, full of confidence, but also with a clearer vision of my limitations and shortcomings.


What Others Are Saying

30 comments:

  1. Ah, yes, those regrets. I have them, too. I was just telling a friend today that loving my new grandson was bittersweet. He is such a joy, but I am reminded of things I wish I had done differently when my son was a baby. I grew into being a good parent, but I didn't start out as one. I guess it's a good thing that we are learning as we go along and getting better--yes?

    I was just telling someone about your blog today. It is such a treasure. I am looking forward to continuing our blog friendship in 2012 and seeing what blessings the year will bring into our lives.

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  2. Galen,

    Over the course of 62+ years, luckily my regrets are few. Our daughters turned out to be excellent adults with strong moral centers and a deep concern for others. Except for the absentee "problem" noted above I'd say my 35+ years of marriage has been very much an essential part of my satisfying retirement.

    One thing about blogging: you learn to expose some of what most people keep hidden, and that gives a real chance for introspection and correction. Regrets are painful at times, but without them would we really be alive?

    I certainly expect to count you as a friend for quite some time into the future. When I come back to your part of the country I hope we'll have the chance to share coffee and stories.

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  3. i, too, wasted my college years. I should have stuck it out and become a nurse- which was my goal. Boyfriend got in the way and I went the easier route. I don't regret being a teacher- but I would have been a better nurse in hind site. STILL- If I had stuck it out I would have never met my husband and had two wonderful children.

    My other major regret is spending so much time regretting things. I have, finally, given this up. I cannot change time- I can only move forward. We all do dumb things. Fortunately for me, and it seems for you, our loved ones still love us.

    I, too, enjoy reading your blog. It gives me inspiration to move forward in positive ways. Hopefully, when I am with my mom sometime this year I can slow down enough for a cup of Joe with you! But...my mom.... she sure demands a lot of time :>)

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  4. Steve in Los AngelesSun Jan 01, 10:21:00 PM MST

    Hi Bob,

    My regret began its development during the summer of 1974 shortly after my graduation from high school. During that summer, I wish that I focused on a career as an engineer rather than on a career in as a dentist. If I spent my first four undergraduate college years studying engineering, I would have received a Bachelor's Degree in engineering either in 1978 or 1979 (and would have started working for my last engineering employer shortly after I would have received my Bachelor's Degree) rather than in 1987. I probably would still be working and would have continued to work for about another seven years.

    I will reach my ultimate financial goals in about 14 years. However, for about another 5 to 11 years, I will continue to live rather frugally.

    I still had a lot to learn about life when I was a teenager. Fortunately, now that I am in my mid-50's, I have become very knowledgeable and wise.

    Thank you for your blog. Your blog is excellent.

    Steve

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  5. Yeah, we all have regrets in life. As I mentioned on my blog last week mine was that I had no self-confidence much of my life. I just did not realize that I had some innate abilities that would have carried me further in life than I actually traveled. The other was looking too much toward the future and not enough in the present. In some degrees these two traits still bug me and that is why I need to keep reminding myself of them.
    Great post again Bob. I look forward to many more in the coming year.

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  6. Janette,

    Regretting our regrets is a colossal waste of time, isn't it. The past is just that and won't be changed regardless of how much we wish it could. The future is unknown and not much in our control anyway. So, the old adage to live for today is really the only think we can do.

    Isn't it interesting how things work out. If you had become a nurse your entire life, and not just your career, would have taken an entirely different track. Decisions are powerful and have consequences. It is a lot like the movie, "Back to the Future." Change one thing and an entire series of events are affected. That is probably why do-overs only happen in our head!

    I look forward to meeting you in person when you are back in town.

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  7. Steve,

    We do become much smarter (and better looking!) as we get older. Even our own kids realize as they pass through their teen years that mom and dad aren't as out of it as they first thought.

    Dentist instead of engineer? That is an interesting shift.

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  8. One important thing I've come to terms with in my life is that the past was exactly the way it was supposed to be because it brought me to where I am today, which is a good place. Changing things that we now see as "regrets" might alter our life in some really significant way that we couldn't foresee and our entire present might be different in ways we wouldn't like.

    To me better questions than what would I change about the past is what I want to change in the future so I don't have any regrets from here on out.

    Also, there might be ways to learn from past mistakes. Like I wish I'd gone ahead and gotten my Phd in history and worked in research at Williamsburg Historical site. That was once my dream but I didn't do it. My plan though when my husband retires is to go to Williamsburg and volunteer so I can still have that experience.

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  9. Then I hope you'll be coming back to my part of the country soon! I will look forward to it!

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  10. Joan,

    I agree with you. A real do-over doesn't happen for lots of reasons (laws of physics being one!) but learning from a mistake is, in a sense, a do-over. You are taking what happened before and applying it to a future decision. Experience really can be the best teacher.

    I've been to Williamsburg several times. It is a fascinating place. Being a volunteer and dressing up in period costumes would be fun.

    Galen,

    I will certainly let you know!

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  11. My only regrets are the little things I could have done for others and didn't do. Sometimes the small stuff really matters and we don't realize it at that moment.
    I made what seemed to be mistakes, but that just took me on a different path. I don't even think about it because life seems to be pretty good. There's no way to know if it would be better if I took a different route.

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  12. Donna,

    "There is no way to know if it would be better if I took another route." So true, and thank goodness. That would only drive us crazy.

    Learning from the past is the best we can hope for.

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  13. RJ,

    I think humans are predisposed to be unsatisfied with where we are. We either look back at our "glory days" or look forward to our "ship coming in." if I could just live my life more in the here and now I would be accomplishing a lot. (That's 3 cliches in one paragraph..not bad).

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  14. Very provocative post--I'll have to think about MY answer, but yours are so interesting.

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  15. Bob, I've been thinking about your post and I think making mistakes in the past causes us to appreciate our present more also.

    I have many regrets about things said and done when I was raising 3 stepdaughters. Realistically though, given the exact same exact situation again, I'd probably say and do all the same things. Over the years, our family has all acknowledged we made mistakes back then but now we are very close. I am Grandma to all the grandkids and we all cherish our loving relationship.

    Perhaps if we hadn't gone through so many bad times together, we wouldn't appreciate that we've all come so far and are able to have that wonderful family relationship.

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  16. Joan,

    It is impossible to appreciate the good without the bad. If every day is great then the happiness wouldn't be noticed.

    Anytime you can say you have a wonderful family relationship then all the stumbles and falls along the way were worth it. Good job, Joan.

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  17. Bob,

    On the whole, being a "jerk" part, what do you think was the primary cause of it. Was there some guilt for being away? or was just that a way of interacting?

    http://blog.logtar.com

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  18. Logtar,

    I think it was a combination of several factors: stress and worry, a feeling I was working harder than anyone else in the family, a belief that my job was to produce income and nothing else was as important, and a weak spiritual foundation that allowed me to let my priorities get out of whack.

    Whew..that was not good, was it!

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  19. A very insightful post that reflects a lot of introspection on your life. It seems, though, from other posts you have written that you have ad lots of success in your life and many accomplishments that should make you feel proud. It's always a pleasure to read your blog posts.
    Be well, Jeanette

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  20. Jeanette,

    Thanks for the support. Yes, overall I have much more to be content about than those things requiring a re-do. But, learning from the past is always a useful exercise. In blogging, it tends to a bit more public.

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  21. If you change a little you change a lot you are the sum of who you are……every once and again I will wish I finished college=drafted, married went to work never went back =divorced remarried (30 years) five wonderful children 11 soon to be 12 grand children….change it’s just what’s in my pocket…ronaldj

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  22. Ronald,

    We are a combination of experiences and decisions, natural gifts, familial influence, a dash or two of luck, some misfortune, and our relationship with God. All that equals a life.

    5 great kids and 12 grandchildren...good for you! That marks a full life.

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  23. Bob I am so impressed by your honesty and open attitude! Best part is you put it out there and then move on LOVE that! Heck we can only learn from our past, it would be a real shame to keep repeating mistakes heck there are new ones to make...we are human.I really enjoy the way you write, I suspect it is how many of us think and at least when I read your blog I smile thinking in my head "exactly" or "really" or "hmmm" but never bored(don't think I have ever been bored in my life).I have always contended we are alot more alike than different-which could be used when thinking of others.Most of us and probably some other species also just want to provide for our families or ourselves,live peacefully and love or be loved.

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  24. lita1857,

    Very nice..thank you for such supportive comments.

    Humans are much more alike than different, though you'd never know if from reading the news or listening to political campaign speeches. If we would focus on the similarities and shared needs the world would be a much more pleasant place to live.

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  25. Hi Bob,

    Great post. If I had to do it all over again I would love my parents more. There are so many things I wish I could do over with them. I try to explain that to my niece in regard to her folks but it falls on deaf ears.

    I like what you said to lita1857. I was talking to a friend the other day and that is pretty much what I told her.

    I also love what you said to Ronald. May I quote you on my Facebook page? That statement deserves to be heard far and wide.

    You're a smart man Bob Lowry. I hope you have a fantastic 2012.

    All the best.

    Patti

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  26. Patti, I am pleased you found some things to like in this post. Certainly you may use the sentence I wrote to Ronald.

    I had a great relationship with my mom and continue to do so with my dad. My wife and I are blessed to be very close to both our daughters. It adds so much to a life.

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  27. Regrets, I've had a few. But if I'd done things differently, I'd just have other regrets. Men can't "have it all" either.

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  28. Sightings,

    How true, we'd just have different regrets. I guess the goal is to live comfortably with the past and not letting it prevent us from moving forward.

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  29. I guess I didn't waste time in college so much as I did in high school. I recall taking three years of Spanish and learning very little. Later, as a young adult, I became quite serious about learning the language and it actually became a hobby of mine. As a senior, I spent a year in South America, most of that time working voluntarily in Peru. Funny how these things work out, Bill

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  30. Bill,

    Based on what I know about you from your blog and book, you have not let a lot of opportunities get past you. Your decision to put everything in storage and head to South America, or spend 7 months on a driving trip around America says you grab chances to grow and learn instead of worrying about the past. I think we'll give you a pass on slacking off on high school Spanish.

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