When I tell people I’ve just met I’ve written a book about regret, many of them have an account of something from their past haunting them to share with me. New acquaintances aren’t prone to share their deepest, personal painful stories of regret unless they are sorely lacking any sort of social filter. I’ve been surprised by how many people have stories ready to share about one particular era of their lives. They’re stories about their high school years.
“I wish I wasn’t so boy-crazy,” one woman told me. “I focused all of my energies on making sure I had a boyfriend. It was the only thing that mattered to me back then, and I didn’t give two thoughts to developing any other parts of who I was. Having someone to make out with between classes is where I got my worth.”
Another woman told me that she wished she would have stuck with gymnastics. “My parents were going through a divorce and neither of them seemed to have time to attend any of my meets, so I quit the team. I’ve always regretted that choice. I think my high school years would have been a lot different if I’d have stayed with it.”
“I had a ‘little’ eating disorder and convinced myself I could control it,” a new friend said. “I spent half of middle school and most of high school managing my binge habit so no one would know. Now I realize I missed so many experiences and possible friendships because my secret controlled me.”
Before I started high school, a guidance counselor came and gave the freshman class a pep talk. “You’ll remember these days the rest of your lives,” she said. The thought horrified me. My strategy was to do all I could not to remember by stuffing as much weed as I could into the Zig Zag rolling papers I purchased with my babysitting money and getting high every single day.
After I came to faith in Christ part-way through high school, I stopped this habit, which meant that I was now free to better remember those high school Happy Days. Though there were a lot of nice moments of connection with my new faith, I still felt as much as misfit as ever in high school. I decided the only way out of this misery was to double-down on my workload and get the heck out of Dodge as quickly as possible. I truncated my high school experience by graduating early and headed to straight to college mid-year.
In my later teens and early twenties, I carried a lot of shame and regret about the stuff I did during the sex, drugs and rock-n’-roll years of my early teens. I recognize now that dealing with those regrets at that time formed a good foundation for what God would teach me about the nature and purpose of regret as I moved into midlife. But there are other regrets from my high school years that have a story to tell me right now. They are of the missed opportunity variety mentioned by so many people I’m meeting these days. Mr. Lowe, an English teacher who ran the school’s theater program. pulled me aside one day after class and said, “I see a lot of promise in you. I’d love to have you try out for a play. Would you consider it?”
What went through my head in response? None of my friends do theater. Theater kids are weirdos. I’d rather die. That’s kind of cool he asked. I wonder what he sees in me. I bet I could do it. No I couldn’t. Then again…maybe…
And of course, I turned him down on the spot.
I spent my twenties and early thirties writing plays for the educational market and skits for church use. (It turned out Mr. Lowe was right about me.) Sometimes we do circle back to the missed opportunities and truncated possibilities later in our lives.
Not always, however. I never went to prom during high school, and I’m pretty sure that is a closed door at this point.
Do you have regrets about opportunities you missed or passed by in high school? If so, what are they?
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If Only: Letting Go Of Regret is now in print. Beacon Hill Press has it in stock, and Amazon and other vendors should be receiving it soon! Though the official launch date is July 1st, it’s pretty cool to know that the book’s message – that regret can be redeemed – is beginning to circulate.
Stay tuned over the next few weeks – an If Only blog tour is in the works!