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?