If I Had a Do-Over


If you knew then what you know now, what would have been different?

I wanted the job badly.  Actually I needed the job badly.  I had four days to find paid work so we would have medical insurance and so we could qualify for the loan to buy the starter house we wanted.  I was 26.  A young mother and breadwinner for my family while my husband finished school.  I was
feeling no love from the woman who was interviewing me.  When she asked me that question I paused a long while.   Like a finalist in a Miss USA contest who has to answer the tough question in front of millions, and look good,  I did only what I could do.   I repeated the question.  I said something inconsequential, pleasant and noncontroversial.  But I said it with strong conviction.  And I smiled.  And I smiled some more.   What to say?

If I was asked that same question today, I’d be better prepared and have a lot more history to work with.  I might reply that I have learned to listen
to a small child babble without interrupting, to let my dog roll in the mud
without scolding, to watch my children make their way without commenting, to listen to my elders without tiring and to stick to my guns with less wavering.   I might say that if I’ve learned anything, it is that experience is the mother of all teachers.  I might even go off on a bit of a tangent and talk about how many times I’ve had to regroup when something or another wasn’t
working for me.  And how sometimes it took me two, three and sometimes many times to figure out what might work better.

My answer today might be a rather far-reaching list of things I would have done differently.  Not a list of regrets, mind you.  It would be more like a list of life buoys, examples of experiences that float around nearby waiting to keep me from going off into the murky water beyond the ropes.   They remind me of situations and circumstances that didn’t work so well for me in the long run, of paths and ways I took that didn’t serve me well.  They are there to mark my way as I journey through to the next time around. 

Here is a snippet of that list, a few of the things I would have done differently:

I would have reined in my shyness and respectfully corrected the kindergarten teacher and the fourth grade teacher for not pronouncing my name correctly for an entire school year. 

I would have stood up straighter when Glen Liolios walked me home from school in the 6th grade although I was at least four inches taller and embarrassed by that.

I would have paid more attention in French class in 9th grade, in American Government in high school and in Art History in college.

I would have been content to be a good swimmer on the swim team and not thought it might be more fun to be on the drill team because boys paid more attention to those girls.  

I would have done a few of those things I didn’t do and would not have done a few things I did, especially those things I did and did not do because that’s what everybody else was doing.

I would have had more real conversation with my grandparents, my parents, my teachers, my coaches, my siblings, my peers. 

I would have spent more time figuring out who I was, not figuring out how to get somebody to like me. 

I would have said what I wanted to say when I needed to say it.

Is it faulty reasoning to suggest to the interviewer that these things that I’d do differently are perhaps less significant than the things that I now know?  Maybe it’s better to leverage that first list into a list that is more forward thinking.  If she is, in fact, more interested in what I now know than what I’d do differently, I can say, now, without pause, with conviction and a smile, that I now know:

who I am;

to walk with my head held high;

to pay attention to things that matter to me;

to be content;

to do things I haven’t done before and quit doing a few things I have done,  only because that’s what I want;

to have real connections with people;

to spend time figuring out who I am;

and to speak my voice. 

What would I have done differently if I knew then what I know now?  It took a
while to answer that question back then because I had thought very little about what I’d do differently and I really did not know a lot.  Honestly, I can’t remember what I said in that job interview long ago.  I just remember repeating the question, answering with conviction and smiling.  And I got the job.  And we bought the house.    And now, years later, if someone would ask me that question again, I would say, “I  know a bit more.”  Wouldn’t you? 


32 thoughts on “If I Had a Do-Over

  1. Hindsight… that is the benefit of age isn’t it? That is an interesting interview question and one I wouldn’t want to be caught by surprise with! I like how you’ve analyzed this here and it made me think a lot about what I would do over. I can think of specifics but I will have to think about the underlying lesson/theme to each. I guess we can never go back, but if we can see everything as a stepping stone to a wiser self and a happy future, I guess that is the best.

  2. You pose a question that crosses my mind occasionally and I try to avoid it because I am not sure what I would change not because it was perfect but because I have never been sure where I would begin, but you have done such a great job of breaking it down it makes it easier to think about.

  3. Thanks for another thought provoking post. What would I do differently – not very much but I might appreciate things more knowing as I now do, that many things and experiences are fleeting and cannot be repeated. And yes, I would have listened more to my grandparents when they told their stories and also to my parents. But I still sometimes see the arched eye from either son or daughter when I begin to reminisce so maybe nothing changes 😀

  4. I would not have let myself be chained by 35 years of alcoholism. 9 1/2 years clean and sober now. When I think of things I did not do or that I should have done it becomes meaningless because it all had to happen that way for one to be what they are now. Suppose each of us must endure an apotheosis to learn do’s and don’ts and to project outcomes of this or that path to make better or should I say wiser choices now.

  5. Now and then it would be nice if life had a rewind button. Rewind, erase, try again. Or Rewind, enjoy again, move on. Then again, we learn as much, if not more from the erase moments! Lifelong learning – that’s the point of life to me.

  6. My do-over would be similar to yours-finding my own voice and being unafraid to be me. I spent a lot of time trying to fit in because I felt so different from everyone else. So, I became a pleaser.
    I know how to answer questions quite adroitly, sometimes with exactly what the interviewer is seeking and the difference today is that I can chose, with full awareness, how I want to present myself. And, with the comfort of knowing who I am and why I say or do what I’m doing. I’m still a pleaser but at least I do it out of genuine desire, not in an attempt to hide or deflect.

  7. Interesting and thought-provoking for certain. I enjoyed reading your thoughts.
    I suppose knowing something now about something you did in the past, would enable you to find a different resolution and/or outcome. I’m not sure I’d want to change the outcome of anything I did back then – especially knowing what I know now. The lessons learned are better learned by doing.

  8. I think you have it. Being true to yourself pleases not only you, but those around you who matter. If they’re not pleased with you, they don’t matter.

    Dr. Suess said it best: “Today you are you, that is truer than true, there is no one alive that is youer than you.”

  9. I savored this post with a hot cuppa tea — and it made it all the more delicious. On my 50th birthday I went away on a hermitage to ask the big questions in life. The thing I came away with was, “Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.” What would I do differently if I had it to do all over again? I would make the necessary changes without delay.

  10. Very thought provoking post. I honestly have to say I probably would do a lot of things differently along the way, but in the back of my mind I wonder where I would be now. When I look at it that way I believe I stayed the course for a reason that wasn’t clear. It’s been an interesting ride… lots of ups and downs, but I’m happy with the end result.

  11. I’ve often wondered if I had do-overs, would it be like “Peggy Sue Got Married” where she appreciated so much more as you mentioned (grandparents, learning), but ended up making the same, big life choices? When I think that I should have skipped “A”, which wasn’t a good choice, I’m mindful that changing history might have deleted “B”, which I love.

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