I’ve heard it said that it’s better to regret the things you’ve done than the things you haven’t done, and I can’t help but feel that there’s a large dose of truth in it. When we’re young, we regret stupid things we’ve done, but as we get older we realise that a lot of these acts have actually shaped the way we are now, so we regret missed opportunities more.
Having left school at 16, I returned to education a few years later. At the age of nearly 25 I went to Dundee University to study philosophy. Obviously across the period of 4 years I can think of various incidences that I’d have like to have changed, but for the most part I can’t complain. There are only 2 incidences where I really wish I’d taken the other option.
The first was an essay I was doing on a course called Philosophy of Buddhism. From the list of options I chose “What is Nirvana?” (and no, I couldn’t just write an essay about Kurt Cobain and his grunge band) and then spent many days in the library trying to figure out the best angle to approach it from. You see the main problem when it comes to describing Nirvana is that Nirvana is a state that is beyond description. The minute you try to put it into words you lose the essence of what it is.
Almost every book I read began with a statement along the lines of “Well, you can’t really describe Nirvana…” and then went on for 3,000 pages talking about why not.
Then it dawned on me – I should hand in a blank piece of paper. How simple, how clean, how beautiful! A cover sheet (with my name and the essay title), a blank piece of paper, and a bibliography – fantastic! Absolutely inspired!
But then the doubts started creeping in – surely I couldn’t get away with that one. I’d get a zero for being a smart ass. I talked to a few friends who agreed it was a brilliant idea but insisted that there was no way I should do it.
So as the doubts grew and my self-confidence sagged, I took the safe option and wrote an essay based around the difficulty in describing a state beyond description. It wasn’t the greatest of essays and I think I got a B- or C+ for it. But when I’d handed it over, I said to the professor that I’d seriously toyed with the idea of submitting a blank sheet of paper. He turned and looked me straight in the eye and said, “Well, I’d have had to have given a very high mark for that” and he looked genuinely quite impressed. Bollocks! I’d let my insecurities rule.
My second regret at university was backing down from standing for President of the Student Union on a platform of “Vote for me and I’ll resign!”
One of the things that has always pissed me off about politics is that you cannot vote for “none of the above”. If you don’t like any of the candidates what are you supposed to do? If you don’t vote, or you spoil your ballot paper in protest, your vote is discounted. So when the elections for the Student Union came up in my final year at Dundee University, I thought that I would stand under the banner of “Vote for me and I’ll resign”, which would effectively be the none-of-the-above candidate. If I won, I would immediately resign and cause a re-election. I would keep standing until finally the student population chose someone worth voting for. Apathy was always a huge problem with student elections, and the highest turnout was usually less than 10%. The size of Dundee Uni at the time meant therefore, that if you could garner in the region of 300 votes you would trounce the opposition and be guaranteed victory. I was convinced I could win it. And even if I didn’t it would be a hell of a laugh and probably go down in student folklore history.
But then a few people started telling me that it was a stupid idea, that it cost money every time these elections were held and the student union was always strapped for cash etc. I still liked the idea, but I was talked out of it. In the end the couple of people who did stand were both wankers and I can’t remember which pathetic political animal won.
Both these regrets are there because I feel that I was not being true to myself. I let myself be talked out of it, thinking that I should follow the safer route. I might have saved myself a little bit of humiliation, but compared with the chance to feel that I’d really gone out and done something out of the ordinary, something that no one else had done, it would have been a cheap price to pay.
To finish using another quote that I don’t know where it originated – “The person who risks nothing, may lose nothing, but gains nothing either.”