I woke up on Saturday morning thinking about regrets in my life. I have a handful of them, and the one on my mind as I lazily crawled out of bed at 10:00 in the morning was the de facto decision to not join the Peace Corps.
I interviewed for the Peace Corps when I was a late junior, maybe early senior in college. I was a Sociology major with minor courses of study in Women's Studies and Biology. I wanted to go to Central America, in part (I think) because an influential teacher in high school had been a Peace Corps volunteer in that part of the world. I had a terrible interview - with my interviewer essentially telling me that I was ill-prepared for life in a patriarchal third world nation, and my job (if I was accepted) was NOT to export American-brand feminism. The interviewer concluded that I needed to talk with returned volunteers to hear more about their experiences serving overseas in order to get a reality check prior to jumping in. So, I did this. My mom helped me set up interviews with our Congressman and a friend of the family who had both served - with difficult tours of duty. After reporting on my interviews and affirming my interest in the Corps, I never heard from them again. I never received a "hooray you are in," or "we still think you suck but good luck" letter. Nothing. So, I assumed I was out. And I was righteously indignant about it, likely to mask my sadness about not being accepted when I thought I was a shoe-in - if those shoes were hurraches (which indeed I owned, along with a par of classic Birkenstocks).
So, I made other plans, taking a really fantastic job as the Director of the Center for Women's Studies at Colgate University for the not-so-enviable rate of $12,000/year.
While I was home, waiting for my new job to start, I received a letter from the Peace Corps telling me that I had been given the assignment of working on an aquaculture project in Guatemala, and would I please sign this letter indicating my acceptance of the assignment. I can still remember what the icon on my assignment letter looked like - the black and white symbol indicating that my project was a fish farming project. And, between the fog of my indignation and my fear of disappointing the potential mentor who would be my boss at Colgate, I chose not to go.
And I woke up on Saturday wondering how my life would be different if I had gone. Could I imagine myself with "international fish farmer" on my resume today? Would I still be fluent in Spanish? How would the experience have influenced my politics, my living situation, my self-esteem and feelings of efficacy? Would I have been able to be bulimic in Guatemala? Would I have unconsciously felt the need to become bulimic in Guatemala? So many questions - all theoretic because I did not go.
What function do regrets serve? To stimulate emotions such as sadness, shame or anger? To make us generally feel bad about our current station in life, or alternately to prohibit pleasure or contentedness? To give us a handle for trying to understand what makes each one of us fundamentally unique? To help us refocus on priorities and goals unmet as of yet in our lives? I went through this dialogue internally. And quickly - it was all over in the 10 minutes it takes me to stretch awake, totter into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee, and then hop into the shower.
As a general rule I'm fairly content with my life. I also believe that my path - like so many paths on this journey in life - is circuitous. There are so many experiences that have made me who I am right now. If "international fish farmer" WERE on my resume, it is likely I'd be a different person that the one sitting here on the Pilates ball typing on a food splattered laptop. But, I'd still be me, only me.