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Questions: The Regrets Edition (Part I)

In a post long ago, I talked about regrets and how I view them as a natural part of the examined life, something to be embraced, not feared. A person who claims he has no regrets is either a magnificent liar or an unreflective fool.

You can learn a lot from your regrets, and the only goal should be to minimize their occurrence as you grow older.

I didn't go into much detail discussing the specifics of my actual regrets, but I've now decided to list the top 10 regrets of my life to date, thinking that it could actually be a useful exercise for me and an enjoyable, potentially educational, but very long read for others (so long in fact that I've decided to divide the column into two).

Each regret will be accompanied by a related question in the comment section for you to answer.

Some of these regrets are small, some are huge. Some are in the past, where nothing can be done about them, and some persist today, where there's still hope that things could be made right. All contribute to who I am, and as the new Senator from Minnesota was known to say in a previous life, "And that's ... OK."

1) I regret not lifting weights when I was going through puberty. Let's start off small. I think a bit of strength training - not a crazy amount, mind you, just a little weightlifting - is much more impactful when your body is developing and maturing. I'm not very body obsessed, but I think being stronger would have helped in a bunch of different ways. At the very least, it would have made me a better baseball player, which would have been nice as not making the high school baseball team is another regret of mine (although not worth a top 10 since I did try out 3 times, getting cut each year, and I give myself props for that).

2) I regret not making the top 10 of my high school graduating class. This is actually a bit of an anomaly because if anything, I think I cared too much about grades and schoolwork. But there's a reason why this stands out as a regret. I remember going to my brother's graduation as a junior high schooler and seeing the ten students with the top 10 GPAs get recognized for their efforts - they were asked to stand and the crowd gave each of them a significant round of appreciative applause.

For some reason, I decided there and then that that was something I wanted to accomplish. It became a goal - a ridiculous and nerdy one to be sure, but a goal nonetheless. And it was in my grasp til the very end, as I got all A's until my final semester of high school. But I didn't do the extra effort to sneak into the top 10, refusing to do the term papers that would have gotten me the 'H' honors (and 5.0) grades in history that would have put me over the hump. This sounds like a small, almost stupid thing but in many ways its indicative of a lack of single-minded determination, which I think the most successful in society seem to have and I clearly don't (an issue that comes up later in this post). I had a goal, I should have worked just a bit harder to achieve it, plain and simple.

3) I regret not living an extended period of time in a foreign country. This is pretty self-explanatory and clearly, the easiest, best time to do this would have been in college, studying abroad for a semester or year. To me, it's a sign of me living scared and nervous about trying new things.

As a side regret, though it isn't necessarily my fault, I regret not learning a foreign language (or two) earlier in life. Like developing muscles, languages are so much easier to learn when you're young, and I automatically give people an extra ten points of respect and IQ when I hear they're fluent in multiple languages. Unfortunately, the arrogant American public education system didn't include foreign languages as part of its early education curriculum back when I was a kid (I think it might now, but in any case at least American kids today have the bilingual Dora). In the end, I took 6 years of French in high school and college and still could barely communicate with the Frenchies when I was in Paris for a trip about ten years back.

4) I regret not being nicer to my mother through my teenage and young adult life. My mom is awesome. She's funny and social and loving and sensitive and generous, and full of so many endearing quirks. Everyone loves her. I do, too, of course, but there was a time when she embarrassed me. OK, she still does, but there was a time when I was way too annoyed by my embarrassment and wasn't always so nice to her.

Nothing major, just small cutting comments or a general lack of affection. I know where I was coming from and what I was doing - just trying to rebel a bit. Like all good Jewish mothers, my mom is a bit smothering and neurotic and for much of my pre-teen life I was a big mama's boy, and I probably overcompensated in my attempt to shed that image. I can now fully embrace that I am and will always be a mama's boy. But I know there were times I hurt her when she did nothing wrong, and for that I am sorry.

5) I regret giving up acting in college. In high school, I was in many of the plays, and had decent-sized parts in a lot of them, except for the musicals because I can't sing or dance (We did Fiddler on the Roof, and I - one of the few Jews in the production - had to play a Russian because of my limited skills). I really enjoyed acting, and thought I was pretty good at it (I knew I had some talent when during a final exam in a freshman acting class I was able to cry during a scene in which I played a father who found out his wife had left him. The tears even surprised me.)

I wasn't perfect,  by any means - watching old tapes, I cringe at some of the tics I brought to the stage,  but I would have liked to continue to pursue acting. Didn't think that would be an issue seeing as I was, after all, going to Northwestern University, which was known for its theater department. Unfortunately, freshman year I got paired up with a roommate who was majoring in theater and it discouraged me when I saw his commitment to the profession. I thought about performing as a lark, not necessarily a career, and my roommate and his theater friends were approaching it on a much different level. So I chickened out and never pursued it further. I've taken a couple of acting and improv classes to try and rekindle the magic, but I'm afraid that dream may be dead.

1) Did you ever have to take the President's fitness test in high school? What did you think of them? I hated them because I couldn't do a one single pull-up and every year I had to try, looking like a complete fool in the process.

I was an ass-kicking pull-upper - sweet justice after years of scrawny nerdiness in elementary school. A little slow on the shuttle though - the one where you run back and forth picking up blackboard erasers.

Girls didn't have to do pull-ups. We just had to hang there, in the up position for a certain number of seconds, which I could do just fine. But I never got the award. I don't remember all of the categories, but there was always one that I sucked in. Maybe I couldn't run fast enough. I know I could never climb that fucking rope, but I don't think that was in the fitness test. It was just one of those humiliating gym moments.

I don't think we had something like that. Then again, I got out of most of PE by being on the swim and waterpolo teams.

I took it, but don't really remember how well I did. I suspect it was about average, since I'd remember humiliating myself, and I'd remember if I did excellent on it.

Lacking a president, we never needed to take his test. High school gym was fairly disorganized. My university gave every freshman a swim test. If you didn't pass, you were automatically enrolled in swim class. A rather sensible idea, and the reason I now can swim, though not very well.

In Ontario, we had Participaction -- after the national anthem and the Lord's Prayer (since discontinued), we had to do about ten minutes of calisthenics (also since discontinued, I think).

Yes, we had them.  I did fairly well but we had a bitchy gym teacher that made all but the one or two teachers pets feel like crap every chance she got.  I don't know why we - meaning all those classes all those years - put up with it.  When I think about some of the things that she said and mostly not to me I am amazed some parent wasn't raising hell.  I thought the fitness tests were a good thing but we had gym three times a week for everyone all though high school.

the only thing i was good at was the friggin stretch exercise, which shows you just how weak i was.

I just won at everything. A complete stud. Gold gold gold.

You know... they say Gods walked the Earth in those days.

They might be right.

2) Do you think you cared too much or too little about grades and/or your academic career?

About right, I think. Grades were important to me, but I didn't sacrifice living for them either. (I have not always maintained that balance as well in my professional life.)

This is a little embarrassing to admit, but I never thought much about grades at all. I am blessed with a brain that learns in exactly the way schools in America taught in the 1970s and 1980s, so I just sat in class and voila. I didn't have to work to learn until I got to college.

I cared about grades for exactly 3.5 years. The ones that counted in high school. No regrets there, except maybe I wish I'd figured out how to read the US History material sooner than 1am the night before the test. College, on the other hand, I found easier than high school. And I also stopped caring about grades 'cause I didn't have any interest in graduate school -- so they seemed meaningless. Maybe there's a part of me that wishes I'd had better grades in college.

About the right amount, on average. There was a time when I obsessed about it in an unhealthy way, and there was a time when I didn't care as much as I should have.

I was one of those annoying teacher's pets through grade school and high school. Led the province in a couple of subjects, won a scholarship. In university, after four years of all-male Catholic education, rediscovered girls and found some other vices for the first time. Grades plummeted. I managed to get out with a degree, but post-grad studies proved a bridge too far. I sometimes think I should go back for a year or so and pick up a master's. But life's too short; no regrets.

In high school I just did what assignments I deemed worthy of my attention so my grades were all over the place from A to D in the same class each semester.  Because I test well I got away with it.  It is not the grades I regret - it is the habit of lack of discipline and doing what I damn well please that has haunted me the rest of my life.

I was basically someone who did very little work in school and said he didnt care about grades but freaked out whenever he got a bad one, even on one test or paper, let alone an entire class. im with O in that school, esp. high school was just too easy.

I just won at everything. A complete stud. Gold gold gold.

You know... they say Gods walked the Earth in those days.

They might be right.

3) If you could live in a foreign country for a year, which would you choose and why? And can you speak any foreign languages fluently? Has it been useful or is it just a parlor trick?

Language has always been my worst subject. I'm glad that I have my high-school French, just so that I have one other language (sort of), but my year of German in college was a waste of time.

There are many countries that I'd go to for a year. I regret not taking a job in Paraguay a few years back.

My nephew has been in the Peace Corps in Paraguay since February. He loves it.

I did live in South Korea for a time, and learned enough Korean to get around. As for a dream country, I'd live anywhere. I'd like to be better at Spanish--I'm far from fluent--but I don't have a great aptitude for language. I can swear in Portuguese though. Porra! (See!) (pronounced PO-ha)

My study abroad experience in college was England. Still a very interesting cultural experience, but didn't help much in the way of foreign language learning. My language-learning career began in preschool, with French. Which of course I don't speak now. Closest I've got to fluency is with Spanish; that was year and half of adult education classes followed by a self-rewarded trip to Mexico. I'm not fluent, but after I've traveled somewhere Spanish-speaking for a day or two, I can make myself understood in pretty much any circumstance.

Germany, because it's where I was born. My German is passable, but could be much better. I also took a year of Chinese in college, but I know just enough to get into trouble. 王八蛋! (wángbādàn, which literally means turtle egg, but is better understood as meaning bastard).

I have lived in one foreign country for a year: the United States of America. I now speak fluent Murrican. And for an anglophone, my home province has all the advantages of a foreign country, without the need for traveling, passports and shots. My French is more than passable. I could see spending a year in France, with side trips to Italy and Spain.

I did live in Iceland for 1 1/2 years and Scotland for 6 months. I am really glad I did.  That was the best part about being married to my first ex.  I learned Icelandic from my native friends.  I could follow conversations easily and make myself understood but lost it all after about 3 years.  I cannot speak any foreign language at all, I couldn't get through French in high school (I was passed so I wouldn't torment the teacher for another year) or get through one semester of Spanish in college in three tries.  I think I have to be submerged to learn. 

I travelled everything. Spoke every language. Especially, the language of love. Funny, it's got almost no hard G's. Or dipthongs.

Anyway. A complete stud.

Dominating the news cycle.

I think London would be my first choice.  I have quite a few friends there, it's full of smart and ambitious worldly people, and it's a stone's throw (and a cheap direct flight) from so many great places in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. (Remind me why I live in LA, again?  Is the weather worth it?)

As for living in foreign countries:  a few months in Singapore at the age of 12; a few months on a human rights internship in Bogota at 25; and the States since 2002.

4) What is one thing you will differently from your parents when raising your own children (or are doing now if you are already a parent)

Cook better

Not have any. It means not having any regrets about how I raised my children. :)

Have fewer of them: two as opposed to five. My mother had to be some sort of saint.

I wouldn't use corporal punishment if I had children.

Ditto.

My parents, god love them, were awesome but they were/are a bit too concerned with pragmatism to really encourage me to pursue whatever crazy thing floated my boat. i will make sure my kids know that if they find something they love, they should do it no matter what the consequences.

I'll raise them to be a little less noble and self-sacrificing.

Maybe a little less humble.

If they're total studs, Gods who walk the Earth, then sobeit.

Facts is facts.

5) What known actor would play you in a movie about your life?

Gary Coleman

Malcom-Jamal Warner

Johnny Depp. I see myself as an older, slightly handsomer Johnny Depp, with a silvery beard. He's also versatile enough to play me as a young man.

Mobster Johnny Depp, pirate Johnny Depp, or Ed Wood Johnny Depp?

Edward Scissorhands Johnny Depp. But like I said, with a silvery beard.

I'm going to go with Angelina Jolie. Because if Acanuck can be delusional, so can I.

Halle Berry.  Everyone who hasn't met me will think I'm totally hot.

Bette Midler.

i'll go with jon cusack, lloyd dobler era

Nick Nolte.

In his later, really really damaged drunk phase.

He's a God.

I've always taken that "no regrets" approach to mean more "sure, I'd do it differently next time, but that's only 'cause I have the experience of f*cking it up in the first place -- so I don't regret the screw-ups."  Ok, so some of the things you mentioned are better/easier done when younger... But that doesn't mean you still couldn't redirect that regret energy to setting a new goal for yourself.

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