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Use Your Past to Inspire Your Future

inspiration Sep 07, 2022

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I've had several opportunities to reflect on my young adult life lately. One reason is that I’m watching my daughter navigate her life in college and my son weave his way through high school, but something else has popped up. I may have an opportunity to advise students at the university I attended, and it’s brought back memories of all kinds. 

I’ve been looking back at how my own young adult life unfolded, and where a mentor would have been very helpful and maybe changed the trajectory of my life. Regret isn’t productive and I don’t have room for it at this point in my life. After all, if my life didn’t happen the way it did, I wouldn’t have all the people and relationships that I’m so grateful for now. Rather, I’m looking back at the choices I made, how I made them, and what I can learn from them for the future. 

Bringing Up the Past

With this new opportunity to advise students in the department I did research in, I've been thinking about my last year or so of college. I browsed through the requirements for earning an advanced degree in Ocean Sciences, and it brought up feelings bordering on regret from not pursuing a Master’s degree in it myself. 

When I was in college, it was one of the most productive times of my life. I was pursuing a double major in biology and chemistry, working about thirty hours a week to put myself through school, and training for triathlons and bike races. Most of that time, I was able to balance everything.

It was a lot, and sometimes things would fall out of balance. I do think the idea of complete life balance is a myth, as things are always shifting, and near the end of my degree things fell apart for me. 

I was very excited about my studies in ocean sciences, and I was working on thesis research with one of my favorite professors. It was challenging to spend additional time in the research lab with my busy schedule, but I managed through the spring quarter. I planned to keep researching through the summer, but I still needed to make money to pay for tuition and all of my expenses. At the time, I didn’t say anything to my professor because I didn’t want him to think I was making up excuses. 

I was young, shy, and didn’t know how to communicate well. In fact, I don’t think I fully learned how to communicate my boundaries, what was happening in my life, and how to be clear about what I really needed until the past 10 years or so. 

That summer, I had to change jobs because I wasn’t getting enough shifts, I moved, had some health issues, and was having relationship issues. I suddenly found myself in crisis mode at twenty-three years old and didn’t do any research at all. I was too embarrassed to ask for help or guidance, and I ended up dropping out of school that fall. 

I muddled my way through with the help of work to keep me busy and relied on exercise to help me feel better. Eventually, I summoned the courage to go see a college advisor and enrolled for the winter quarter. I made the decision that I needed to finish my degree sooner rather than later, and graduate with my biology degree only. I could always take the comprehensive test for my further degree later. 

Well, I never went back to the ocean sciences lab, never talked to my professor about what I decided to do, and I’ve always regretted that. He was a kind man and likely would have helped me make it work or at least given me closure on it. Even though it was nearly thirty years ago, it feels “undone” because of that missing communication piece. 

The Last Bit of Regret

Back in the present, as I was looking at the Master’s degree requirements, I realized that I had taken most of the classes I needed to achieve it. I didn’t know how close I was back then, and I certainly didn’t know that my tuition what be paid for and I’d get a stipend for living expenses while doing my research. 

Seeing how close I was to the finish line brought up so many feelings and “what ifs”. Rather than get mired in regret, though, I know that I can be proud of myself because I did persist and finished my bachelor's degree. I was the first person in my family to do that, and it wasn’t easy while working at the same time. I’m also happy with the many experiences I’ve had since then and my life now, and if I had continued on with my Master’s, I wouldn’t be here writing this. 

Moving Towards the Future

All of your experiences in life, good and bad, make you who you are. I can be grateful for those and recognize that. Whether I move forward with this opportunity to advise graduate students or not, I do feel like I have been able to create some closure on that time in my life. I've also been able to share this experience with my kids and how I might have handled it differently. 

By sharing with them, I hope that they’ll come to me when they're uncertain or confused about their path forward because they know that I've had these experiences. I'm also sharing this with you because I hope to inspire you to accept the times in your past when you made difficult decisions and wonder if you could have done better in those moments. 

When you are feeling stuck on the past, rely on the people around you or seek guidance to get past it. It can help to have an objective coach or someone to ask you the right questions to guide you toward the answers that are right for you.

If you’d like help from me, make an appointment for a free consultation to see if we’re the right fit to work together. I have one-on-one coaching spots available, and a new group coaching program will be starting this fall.

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