Off the beat: Don’t look back in regret

Regret should be a four letter word. No one wants to hear it and everyone hates saying it.

Part of what makes this feeling particularly dreadful is the permanence. Most of the time there’s no way to go back and do things differently. No one likes regret, but the problem is that we only see missed opportunities after they’ve passed. Short of developing clairvoyance, we’ll probably never be able to avoid regret, but maybe we can learn to recognize our own pitfalls and seize the moment before it slips away.

By the middle of my senior year, a deep sense of urgency had crept into my thoughts and completely caught me off guard. Did I really have only six months left at Cal? Had I really never taken a DeCal? Why hadn’t I been to Cheeseboard yet? Of course I had heard that college would go by fast, but it hadn’t actually registered. Like Alanis Morissette, I was really lamenting the good advice that I just didn’t take, but I quickly realized that this was a stroke of luck.

People are creatures of habit. We seek out a routine and then cling to it for dear life. And while college students are young and adventurous, we still sit in the same seat during lecture, take the same route home and eat the same foods at the same restaurants. I was guilty of all of those and more, so I started with the small things. I bought coffee from a different cafe and attended guest lecturer events in my department. I sought out new study spots and stopped to look at whatever Berkeley spectacle I happened upon. The changes were minor, but each one made my day feel fresh and exhilarating, as if it were the first week on campus all over again. Eventually I was comfortable enough to take on the big stuff, like classes.

As I scrolled through the list of DeCals one day, I knew there was one I definitely was not interested in. The Teach in Prison DeCal filled me with dread every time I read the words. But as I was leaving class one afternoon a couple days later, several students entered the hall and began setting up. One of them turned to the board and wrote, “Teach in Prison DeCal Infosession.” It wasn’t like anything I had ever done before or even remotely within my interests, but by the time the info session ended, my name was on the sign-up sheet. Teaching algebra to prisoners in San Quentin had never sounded appealing to me because I simply hadn’t given it a chance. It was crazy, different and totally outside my comfort zone — and I wanted to be part of it. Although I wasn’t able to take the class, the experience at the info session led me to explore other classes and activities I had never considered.

Next, I tackled dancing, something I can’t do without, well, alcohol. So off I went to the info session, by the end of which I was completely stoked about swing dancing. Although this class did not end up fitting my schedule either, I did take a speculative fiction class to fulfill a major requirement. I’d never been a sci-fi fan, but I have since gained both appreciation and curiosity for the genre.

The bottom line is, don’t write something off just because it doesn’t fit in with what you already like. College is about discovering new things. Ask yourself, “What about this makes me uncomfortable?” The answer may surprise you. You won’t find yourself by trudging along the same, well-worn route.

So Berkeley kids don’t exactly have a lot of free time on their hands. For better or worse, that’s absolutely true. As a transfer student, I spent my first year agonizing over every single assignment. I didn’t get out much and made few friends. But what I’ve realized is that college isn’t just about the end result — if it was, you could just as well attend some online university. College is about so much more than a diploma. Yes, it’s about the parties and the friendships and the crazy shenanigans, but it’s also about something more subtle and profound. And, come on, you’re at Berkeley.

Spending my last year of college doing everything I could to make sure that I left with no regrets has enabled me to recognize the exciting opportunities that come my way. It’s a widely-accepted notion, but it’s worth repeating. We don’t regret the things we did, only the things we didn’t do. Now I’m not encouraging anyone to break the law, but if the consequence of not experiencing something is a lifetime of wondering what if, going for it can only benefit you. Did I graduate college with some regrets? Absolutely. There are so many more things I wish I’d been able to do, but there’s a big world out there.

I’ve looked foolish more times than I care to count. I’ve been reckless and crazy and maniacally happy about simply being alive, and I don’t regret a damn thing. Even the most mortifying moments are worth it because not knowing is infinitely worse. So just do it already.

Contact Oksana at [email protected]