Regret is a powerful tool. It is a tool that can bury you, or a tool that can help us escape. How you choose to use this tool is up to you. Recently, I watched Larry Smith’s Ted Talk Why you will fail to have a great career. The talk appears pessimistic but at its root is a promise of greatness. A promise fuelled by passion. Of course, what we often don’t relate with passion is hard work and risk. Just because you are passionate about something it doesn’t mean that it comes easy. It should mean that you should want to work hard to achieve success in that given field. But, what about risk?
We seem to avert ourselves from risk. We are scared to take risks. Why? Risks can – and usually do – bring about great insight. As a 40 year old I can look back on my life, those points where I did not take risks are clear and evident. However, I think as I reflect on my life thus far I see that I was someone who took big risks. I mean, when my fellow twenty-something friends were completing University and taking on “the real world” I crossed the country in an old brown van playing bad rock n‘ roll in star-studded locals like Sudbury, Saskatoon, Moncton and Vancouver’s Pigeon Park. Beyond that I hit the road with other bands, tried my hand at stand-up comedy, and – in general – led a life seemingly devoid of much purpose at all. In retrospect, as a “mature” adult, this seems risky. But, still, there are moments when I can look back and think, “If only I had…”.
When I was about 19 or 20 I was out of work. Now, this was a time when you found jobs through both want ads in the local newspaper and through friends or family. I interviewed for two jobs. The one was a banal factory job. It was close to home, probably with a clear schedule, shift work no doubt, and probably pretty thin on skill. But, for a 19 year-old it was perfect. I would learn what I needed to learn quickly, show up, do it, leave, and collect a meager pay cheque, which I would spend on music and filling up my vehicle to get my band to whatever venue in Southern Ontario we were playing that weekend.
The other job however was as a horse trainer. The potential employer needed someone to come in during the week to walk and groom the horses, do some training and then join him when the horses did events.
I remember being honest with the gentlemen at the interview.
“I’m sorry, but I have no experience with horses.”
However, being desperate for work, I no doubt also announced in some trite uber-positive tone that “I was a quick learner” or “ready for a challenge”. It turns out the second point was probably a lie, because two days later, when I was offered the job, I turned it down. Actually, I asked him if I could have a few hours to think about it. In those hours I waited by the phone hoping for a call from the factory. At points over those few hours I talked myself into the challenge. Sure, I’m not great at getting up early and the job will be cold and dirty, but this could be fun. You like animals. You’d have complete control over the training of a horse. That’s pretty cool. Yet, despite my best attempt to convince myself, when the factory called I said yes and called back the “horse guy” to decline his offer.
Now, go on and ask me the name of that factory.
The thing is I can’t remember.
Ask me what I learned there about the industry.
I can’t recall.
Ask me what I learned about myself at that job.
It didn’t take long for me to wonder what would have become of me if I had taken that job. Now, by no means do I believe that I would have been a professional horse trainer, or had a horse in the Queen’s Plate, but I do believe that if I had only taken that challenge I would have learned a lot about what I was capable of doing. Although I took risks, they were calculated. Sure, I did stand-up comedy. But, as a front man for a tongue-in-cheek rock band that was not such a leap. It was in my “wheelhouse” or my comfort zone. I was good being on a stage and liked being the centre of attention (this might explain why teaching was my future career choice), so the risks I took generally involved me doing just that.
A horse trainer. What did I know about training horses? But, isn’t that the point of life? I took the easy way out, even when someone was willing to take a risk on me and help me learn a new skill. I turned him down. It’s a regret I try to no longer make. When someone offers me the opportunity to try something different in my career I take the opportunity. Because I never know how the experience will shape me.
I am not sure what happened to “horse guy”. Not sure who got the job. All I know is that he didn’t lose out, I did.
I write about education, music, politics and my own philosophical conundrums. If I have left you thinking about something let me know. Sometimes I think this world needs more thinking.