December 26, 2017

If Life Had a Do-Over Option, Would I ?


I have given some thought to how my retirement journey has unfolded. That has raised the question, " 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 me see patterns in my decision making. There is the opportunity to learn from past choices to improve the ones I, and maybe you, are making during our satisfying retirement

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 in my late 20's, 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. My parents are both gone. 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 did. Also, during my freshman year of 1967 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 but did give me a broad, liberal arts background. 

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 6 or 7 years and I had given more to my clients.

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 possible lures 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, like the lack of any hobby or outside interests, 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.

Betty and I have made 41 years together and are much happier and satisfied with our relationship than during the dark times when my work was my wife.


I did find an excellent list of do-over ideas that Mike Bellah posted on line several years ago. You might find reviewing his list kick-starts some ideas for you.

How about you? Any imaginary do-overs cross your mind?


34 comments:

  1. I was uncomfortable reading your confession. I think that most of us have some regrets in life. Some regrets are more significant than others. As for me, my biggest regrets are the engineering college that I chose, and staying at that college when it became apparent that I didn't have an aptitude for engineering. On the other hand, if I didn't stay at that college, I wouldn't have become an Air Force officer and I wouldn't have met my wife. All sorts of good things in life flowed from my staying in college as an engineer. So, learn from the past but let the past go, don't worry about the future, and live in the present. That may not be a guarantee for happiness, but it's the best that I can do.

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    1. Originally, Google decided your comment belonged n the spam filter! I am glad I saw it and moved it back here where it belongs.

      Like your situation, if I hadn't followed the path I did and take the jobs I did, I never would have met my wife or had the two daughters I did.

      When I was growing up my dad almost took a job that would have relocated us from Boston to California in the early 60s. I can't even imagine how different I would have been or the path of my life if he had taken that job. Everything is interconnected.

      In an odd parallel, in the late 70's I was offered a job in the same part of California. At the time we were living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Again, that would have changed everything about our family and how it has developed.

      Looking back is interesting and can teach us lessons, but it is no place to dwell.

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  2. I don't really think about do-overs so much as what would have happened if I had made a different decision in life.. What if I had gone this way instead of that way. I suppose it is in the end the same thing but as usual I look at it differently.

    You and I led quite different lives prior to retirement but it seems like we ended up in our retirement years pretty much the same.

    Happy Holidays to the Lowry clan my friend

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    1. Is retirement the great leveler?

      Right back to you, RJ. Have a fabulous New Year, one with less political drama and more compassion for all of us.

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    2. Thanks Bob..

      Your post inspired me to write a similar one for my blog tomorrow comparing our two lives and showing how completely different sets of experiences can eventually end up in the same road taken.

      Thanks for the idea.

      We do get very reflective this time of year don't we?

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  3. Bob,

    I think about this often, but the older I get the more I believe that the contingencies and randomness of life rules.

    For every regret or “do over” I have or wish for, I can think of many other fortunate turns in my life that occurred because of seemingly small, insignificant events, conversations and/or decisions. A lot of my life’s problems turned out (in the end) to be blessings in disguise (like the winding down of your business).

    Yes, some people can be in control of many aspects of their lives and futrures, others not. It is the luck of the draw. I increasingly find myself grateful for wining the “Lottery of Life,” being born in the time and place that I was, to the parents I had, to the rewarding career and friendships, etc.. At the same time I see the tremendous amount of poverty, hardship and sadness in the world and marvel at the randomness of it all.

    For me, one of the best expressions of this is a song by Kathy Mattea, one of my favorite singers. It is called “Seeds.” You can listen here if you wish:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MqXYMGWT-Q

    Rick in Oregon

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    1. If I had the chance for some do-overs now, I wouldn't, because each example noted above was a growth experience. I didn't recognize it at the time, but the man I am today is a result of everything that has happened to me to this point. Of course, I wish I had been a little quicker on the uptake, but that didn't happen. So, like you, I am so thankful for the "life lottery" that put me where I am today.

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  4. “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
    Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
    Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
    Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

    ― Omar Khayyám

    I memorized the above in high school. That said, I occasionally think that one of the biggest mistakes I made in the trajectory of my life was to not go directly into graduate school after finishing my B.A. and thus push on for a Ph.D. and strive for a position in academia. But that said, one of the most enjoyable times of my life later was returning to school and graduating from law school, although saying law school was enjoyable is half the truth, as it was quite a sacrificial slog at times, and taking a bar exam to be licensed is a three day experience I blessedly would never ever want to repeat in my life.

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    1. At one time I toyed with the idea of becoming a lawyer: the academic, logical, preciseness appealed to me. But, if TV shows and what I read about the profession is even remotely true, I am glad I stuck with radio.

      I notice than some law schools are replacing the LSAT with something a bit more humane. I gather the exam is beyond brutal.

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  5. Bob, I think this was the mindset of our male generation. I have to say, I'm glad my sons learned from our generation what not to do. I managed to find work in many different fields every time we moved, which was annually for many years due to Dave's transfers. I'm grateful for all that I learned from that life and how it made me the person I am today. I'm pretty sure Betty and the girls enjoyed your time away more than you realize. Separations can make room for personal growth on both sides.
    b

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    1. Betty is a pretty independent lady so there may be some truth to what you say. That doesn't change my being less than a full time husband, and that doesn't have to mean physical presence. When I was home I wasn't fully home.

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    2. We also moved around a lot, and I had a husband who was gone from home quite a bit, thanks to the U.S. Navy. We had a "honeymoon marriage" for all the years he served - we were always celebrating the homecomings and getting ready for him to deploy again. I never enjoyed or learned to like the separations, but I did learn a lot about myself, especially that I could handle just about anything on my own, from moving furniture, to arranging a full pack-out of our things, or moving into a new location on my own, to car repairs, bill paying and budgeting . . . everything. My own family always had considered me to be a lightweight, an unserious, goofy sort of person but I figured out I was anything but those things. So, no regrets. I never worked during those years - with one parent gone so much I felt it was better for our son to have one "full-time" parent. I did accumulate a lot of college credit though - I always went to school wherever we were, if possible. Of course not working all those years (and after our daughters' adoptions) affected my retirement income (i.e. less Social Security and pension), but again, no regrets. It was the right thing to do, and we're doing OK financially these days.

      Bob - for many of those service years my husband was never really home when he was home either. We used to joke that he had to hand in a list of all important family dates (anniversaries, birthdays, etc.) whenever he checked into a new duty station so they could make sure he wasn't home. We can joke about it now, but it was difficult back then, and wore on us. His work and long hours never stopped, even if the ship was in port and especially as he moved up through the ranks, and the work sometimes got to the point where I had to ask my husband to throttle back a bit and "be home." At one point, as he was getting ready to head off (again) to a three-week leadership course, I asked him to think about whether he wanted to be married to the navy or to me, because I just couldn't compete any more, and was tired of our son and I always coming in second. He came back from that course a changed person, and nearly 39 years later we're still together.

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    3. Thanks for the happy ending to your story. Betty and I will celebrate 42 years in June.

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  6. Bob, At 69, yours and my stories are SO parallel that it makes me wonder how many share the same tale. I was a rotten student but somehow managed to get a BS and was able to avoid the draft. You loved radio and I loved TV production and spent 50 years doing what I wanted in my chosen field. College only delayed success in my field and I wish more people recognized that there are many careers that don't require a degree. I wish you and I could chat more to see what other similarities we share. Thanks for your ongoing blogging.

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    1. Interesting, Bruce. Yes, it would be fun (and instructive) to compare life journeys.

      What you say about college is so true. Most parents who can afford to send their child to college think it is a given. Most children will willingly put themselves into serious debt because it is expected. Yet, trade or vocational schools are sometimes much better choices. And, there are some notable folks who had such a powerful vision that high school was all it took. Steve Jobs and Richard Branson come to mind.

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  7. Do-overs in my life? Like most that have posted I wouldn’t go back for myself at all but there is one thing I would change.

    We had two daughters and one was relatively straightforward to raise. The typical rewards and punishments (mild and infrequent) were all that were necessary to allow her to flourish and grow into the fine woman she is today. My other daughter struggled for decades and no matter what approach we took --- ourselves or on the advice of teachers, doctors, and psychologists -- seemed to help. She was a bright sensitive girl with a loving heart but was just unable to succeed at school or at keeping friends (and later adult relationships). This lead to cycles of underachievement, depression and attempts at suicide (none very well thought out but spoke clearly to her internal pain).

    Her life has been a struggle (she is a high school drop-out and as a teenager took off, living on the streets for a time) and only now, in her early 30s, after the throes of adolescence, with the right counselling (many tries) and the right meds (many many tries), things finally seem to be balanced and going her way. At 32 she is in a good long-term relationship and will graduate from community college after 13 years of part-time studies as a mature student.

    She is now doing well working in her field of choice and while I applaud her for sticking with it, eventually getting her life on track, if there were anything I could change it would be to recognize and understand how we could better have helped her much earlier rather than it taking over 20+ years of trial and error.

    We are thankful we have come out the other end successfully, I know some don’t, and for all the missteps we know we did the best we could, even “experts” we consulted didn’t have any more answers than we did. Our daughter often thanks us for never giving up on her but it involved a lot of pain for her and anguish for us. If I could do anything to avoid or shorten that for her I would. The old saying that a parent is only as happy as their saddest child is indeed true. She is happy now and so are we.

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    1. That is a powerful and very personal story you have shared. While my wife and I never had those type of problems with our two girls, you know your struggles are not unique.

      I hope someone reading your comment will feel a sense of connection to your tale and understand we all just do the best we can.

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  8. Regrets? I have a few. I ended up alright, but honestly, I'd love a chance to do it all over again!

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    1. There are very few times of my life I would voluntarily choose to re do, so I am glad this is an intellectual exercise, not a real one!

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    2. In the "blow your mind department," I had a quantum physicist colleague at the university who postulated that the past and present exist at all times simultaneously, and when we die we drop back into our lives at some point to retrace our life path, but different decisions will produce different outcomes. Just in case he is right I am making a list of things to do differently.... :)

      Rick in Oregon

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    3. I've heard that too Rick and in a way I hope it's true, but we might be destined to repeat it the same over and over...I hope not. I'd mostly redo my appreciation for my parents who put up with a somewhat rebellious selfish child. I'd go to college, but would not have met my husband, which marrying him was overall was a good thing. (he has passed.) I married too late for children, but sometimes regret not having them. Mostly my life has been ordinary, but satisfying.

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    4. Oh and the one thing I'll never regret are all the wonderful pets I had!

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    5. I hope Rick's professor is wrong. And, like you, Mary, pets are such a joy. They teach us love, patience, responsibility, and dealing with painful loss. Our Bailey turns 6 in 2 weeks. She is almost as old as this blog!

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  9. I regret marrying the monster I did over 50 years ago.

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    1. Well, there's a comment I have no response to.

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  10. Bob, Not only are we about the same age (turning 70 in April), but your story is SO parallel to MINE that it's uncanny! You were in radio, I was in television. Though I got a BS degree, I was a rotten student except in TV studies and college was of little value. Luckily, it was affordable when I started in 1966. But I should have moved to LA 5-10 years earlier but I was scared. A successful career with lifetime union pension and health plan is as good a reason as any for gratitude so I work on that daily. I wonder just how many of your readers might be in the similar situation as we are? Thanks for your ongoing blogging and keep the good stuff coming!

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    1. My career choice was set well before I got to Syracuse. I had been an announcer for 3 years before starting college, but I didn't major in broadcasting. Instead my degree was in International Relations, a broad liberal arts degree with no practical use except for giving me an abiding interest in what is happening in the world.

      My draft number was so low that I was faced with a ticket to Viet Nam within weeks of graduating. Luckily, I managed to find a slot in the Army Reserves. 6 years of once a month weekend meetings and 2 weeks every summer playing soldier probably saved my life, or my sanity. My future brother in law came back wounded, both physically and mentally.

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  11. I don't ever want to go back but rather focus my energies on change going forward. I am in flux at the moment after 18 mos of retirement which I thought I really planned out well - hah! It's an adjustment, certainly, yet I wouldn't want to return to the workforce.
    All the best of the holidays to you and your family.

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    1. Enjoying the present and moving forward: the most sensible plan for a happy retirement.

      Planning for retirement is necessary, but so are changes to that plan.

      All the best to you and yours, too, Shelia.

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  12. Wow, Bob, that is a very introspective, and a little bit uncomfortable post! It is sometimes hard to look at the things we'd have done differently. As for me, I was a special education teacher for nearly thirty years. Before I went to college, no one really discussed career options with me, and I sort of fell into my educational path by default. It seemed OK at the time...Now don't get me wrong, I loved every single minute of teaching my students. But in retrospect, I could have been/done so much more! Now I do a little retirement hustle in college and career access, hoping to help high school students have some guidance before making a commitment. And as others have said, now that I'm retired, you couldn't force me back into a classroom! Happy 2018 to you and yours! ~ Lynn

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    1. Yes, some of what is written above is not all that pleasant to confront, even less so publicly. But, growth comes from admitting mistakes and looking for ways to make things better. I don't mind talking about my shortcomings if someone else realizes they are not alone in messing up now and then.

      Happy 2018 to you, too, Lynn.

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  13. Gulp....well, I am happy I went to college in Utah, law school in Mississippi, and that I have had a 30 year legal career in two different states (yes, I took two state bar exams...when I was young...lol)...I have a pension, and I have tried very hard, criminal cases, and developed in that way, so career wise, I am ok with what I have done. I feel I have been a complete disaster as far as my personal life. I am not one to talk ugly about my ex so, as mom always said, if you cannot say anything nice, do not say anything at all. I will say, I made big mistakes also in my marriage. I had four kids and they all have serious emotional/mental issues because of the stupidity my ex and I displayed. How two highly educated, people could be so ignorant in raising children is beyond me, but we were poster children for what not to do as parents. I was as dumb as he was, but in different ways. Yes, I have many regrets in my personal life and wish I could go back and fix it. Hindsight is 20/20.

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    1. As my story and some of the comments before you make clear, you are human and made mistakes. I am sorry your personal story is a sad, disappointing one. As parents we all wish there was a manual that came with the job.

      I appreciate your openness. I am sure there are others who have read what you have said and are nodding along with your tale.

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  14. I think I have come to a state of acceptance about the big decisions and major turning points in my life. Even though some of the consequences of my choices are, in retrospect, not what I would have wished for (e.g., moving so often that I have retired feeling that I do not have roots anywhere), I believe that I did the best that I could with the circumstances that I found myself in, and with what I knew at the time. The most difficult realizations also provide the biggest opportunities for personal growth. However, looking back, what I wish that I could undo would be my unkind comments, the periods that I was so grumpy with my children growing up, times that I lacked the confidence to speak out, and not having time for or failing to be supportive of people that I care about.

    Jude

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