Some events and conversations lately have me thinking about the topic of wasted time/opportunities, and also something like the reverse of that, of realizing the value of my own time and resenting having it treated carelessly. And also a little bit of perspective on the fact that maybe there’s really not any such thing. This post may not have much of a point beyond me trying to work through my own thoughts, so I’m not sure it needs even a hypothetical-at-this-point audience, but I suppose I’m really trying to put it out there into the world so that it’s not running circles around my head any more.
The first thing you need to know to understand this is that, for a number of reasons, I did not make the best of my first attempt at a college education, despite getting into an excellent school that seemed at first glance a good fit for me. I should’ve been an ideal student. I had good grades in high school, high SAT scores, and a variety of activities in which I’d been involved. I should have thrived in college – I’d been told that I would thrive in college by my principal, my guidance counselor, and several favorite teachers. Instead I floundered and disappeared.
Perhaps I wasn’t always in the right space for it, mentally. Emotionally. I hadn’t been so far away from home, and there were situations I didn’t know how to cope with. I was relatively isolated, making few truly close friends despite having a lot of acquaintances who would’ve told you I was fine and in fact cheerful much of the time. I didn’t have a support network to notice when something went wrong and I still thought myself too fiercely independent to ask for help. I didn’t want to take an action that I perceived as failure. I couldn’t be less than fine. Nothing was really wrong; everything that was wrong was, in my mind, something I’d done to myself and had to cope with myself. And I still blame myself for the lion’s share of all of the above. Hindsight is 20/20 but I can’t help but think that I knew what advice I would have given someone else who was floundering and in need of guidance.
In any case, for whatever reason, I made a mess of most of my first college experience and the most I can say about it is that I made it out alive. And every single time I stop to really think about that, I’m angry. Because I had this opportunity, and I had all this potential, and all this supposed intelligence, and I wasted it. It hits me harder now that I’m thinking of applying to schools again and realizing that it’s going to be harder this time around. Because of the record of past failings, and because I’m not an amazing talent to make up for it. I didn’t deserve the first education I got; teenage me wasn’t a hard worker and early 20-something me was a mess. Now that I’m capable of being more, it’s harder to prove myself. And that sucks, and maybe it should suck. Maybe I don’t even deserve the second chance I have now. I’m very harsh on myself but sometimes I think not harsh enough.
I could go into at least five or six more stories of how I essentially wasted my time, perhaps not knowingly, but in spite of my better instincts. Even now I have a hard time making choices that I suspect are best for me, because I don’t trust my own judgment. Most recently I’ve been kicking myself about not making a particular choice a semester earlier; I knew I was in a less than ideal learning situation for me, and I strongly suspected that the alternative would be better. But I stuck out the situation I’d chosen first out of a number of… not terrible reasons, but reasons that ignored my gut instincts. Stubbornness, I suppose. I’ve since corrected that situation and have made good progress, but I can’t help but wonder how much further along I’d be if I’d made a different choice the minute I started seriously considering it.
The flip side is this: for whatever reason, my first time through college, I wasn’t in the right space to take advantage of what was in front of me. It doesn’t matter why. It doesn’t matter if it was 100% my fault and I made terrible decisions the entire time. There’s literally no way of knowing that things would have been vastly different if I’d done everything “right”, or if I’d just have ended up in another situation that I hated, or exactly where I am now. And more recently, I wasn’t ready to trust my judgment and take a leap of faith when I was hearing mixed messages. I am starting to think that people have to be ready before they’ll flourish. Sometimes I’m a little over-cautious, and sometimes I’m stubborn about sticking to choices. Sometimes I just don’t do things I know I should for stupid reasons that don’t even make sense to me. Most of the time I’m just scared of one thing or another and sometimes the fear wins. I don’t let it win every time any more.
I think all of the above has made me value my own time more. I have very little tolerance these days for people who don’t respect that the time I give them is worth something; that even if my plans for the day involve sitting in front of my television eating popcorn, it’s still my time. People who know me know that I will make extra time for things that are important to me and people who’ve earned the right to ask for it. It doesn’t even take much; I don’t feel I ask for a lot in the way of acknowledgment. I just don’t like getting the feeling that I’m invisible, that hours of my time don’t mean anything. That my dedication to something doesn’t matter. A few people have made me feel that way over the past few years – some of them inadvertently, and some of them carelessly, and some of them in single uncharacteristic moments that I’ve long since forgiven but which hurt beyond telling at the time. I don’t think I hold it against people, personally, but I am becoming more selective about who gets more of my time now that I have so many things to balance. The ones who remain indifferent, to whom I’m faceless and interchangeable, won’t get any more of it.