1. Going to a large state school, in my state of residence.
Going to college in the same city I went to high school was not the best decision, I think. Of course, I can’t know, I am who I am. But instead of any Seminal College Experience, my first two years were barely punctuated by the entrance of college into my daily routine. There was no significant change in my worldview or sense of closeness or community with other human beings that were undergoing the same transition as I. My state school was bad: there was no community whatsoever. I drove to school, went to class, and left. Visiting my friends at small liberal arts colleges where everyone lived together and interacted intimately on a daily basis was confounding to me; I’m pretty sure I didn’t even grasp the depth of community because I had never really learned the concept before (I did, however, have that chance when I studied abroad my third year). So instead of feeling at all involved in any sort of student community, I felt mostly a vague sense of alienation from the people I went to school with, and half of them were 40-year-old moms going back to school for a nursing degree, or something. I had friends, but they were outside of college, and if I knew anyone in my classes, it was because I had signed up for the class with them because we were friends outside of university. Who knows, really, but I have a feeling that belonging to a close-knit community during my four years of higher education would have had significant, positive impact on my then-levels of self-esteem, social awareness, and self-image.
2. Spending a lot of money on weed.
I can’t deny that I had some nice stoned times, but what a waste of money all that was, really. On 4/20 of this year I wrote a piece about why I think weed sucks; my reasons still stand. I could have, well… I could have bought more video games! I could have saved money. Actually, my college self would have most definitely found equally stupid ways to blow my money, so, um… nevermind.
3. Not taking courses that introduced me to entrepreneurialism, business and/or reality.
I’m not a huge capitalist or whatever but if one doesn’t want to work the rest of his life in an office – which, post-college, I very quickly found out – a grasp of the reality of business, freelancing, networking culture, unspoken rules and a birds-eye scope on the dynamic entrepreneurial landscape is an invaluable set of knowledge to be armed with when one actually does face the Real World. I know that sounds jargony/ corny, but it is definitely true. I would venture that not even having the slightest inkling of any of this shit probably set me back a few years in simply learning how shit worked as well as made me look like a total embarrassing dumbass in my first two office jobs.
4. Placing so much value in ‘cool.’
I swear I was on some Personal Cool Quest when I was in college, and the funny thing is is that if there can ever be any objective representation of cool, I definitely was way, way far off. Thinking about it now, I bet at least half the moves I made and interests I took to were simply to create the impression that I was mysterious, possessing a unique intelligence whose depths were literally unfathomable (I know right), and above all, elite. That seems so stupid, thinking of it, because at this point I perceive those obviously on a Personal Quest For Cool as seriously, tragically misguided – doomed, even, to a vacuous and shallow set of interpersonal interactions. I hope the best for them. Maybe it was good I got it out of my system.
5. My major.
I chose to major in Psychology for four basic reasons, I think: 1) I was genuinely interested in social psychology, 2) I felt that being a psychology major would help me come closer to the Ideal Self that I’d imagined at that time (i.e. possessing/ outwardly displaying a sage-like understanding of humans such that I could accurately and consistently ‘one-up’ people via conversational tactics, social strategy and foresight (what an asshole, I know) and thus feel/ appear superior) 3) I had a fantasy of being a part of the club that produced and published groundbreaking experimental research, and 4) I liked writing academic papers.
None of this really turned out the way I expected it to, though. My delusions of superiority based on intellectual prowess were basically narcissistic low self-esteem issues that were definitely not resolved by learning more about the way humans interact, think and emote, and I realized some time during my third or fourth year that being a researcher – if you didn’t have an extreme passion for your subject – was incredibly tedious and boring. On top of that, a degree in psych doesn’t really get you far at all. Here are the basic options that I know of for a psych major just out of college: work in a psych ward with victims of trauma, the developmentally disabled, the disturbed (violent offenders), or troubled teenagers for something like $9/hr; become a therapist (whose career trajectory often starts out in either research or working in a ward) and counsel depressed people, irrational people and couples who have issues; become a social worker; or stay in academia, eventually becoming a professor. None of these options were at all attractive to me, and I have had not one job that I’ve used any of the knowledge I learned in my psych program. My own mistake, but I wish I would have been the type of individual with the foresight to simply sit down and think for just a minute how realistic my major was going to turn out.
I am aware that the experiences here listed have formed who I am, and of the inherent, complex paradox that arises when we talk about what we’d do over if we could do it over again. As told in the introduction to this article, I like Me – for the most part – but this fact is not mutually exclusive with the fact that, within a system of goals, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ decisions can be made, and if I apply my own system of goals to my time in college, well, I might have made some different decisions.