Early morning reflections: Choices

This piece was published in a college newspaper

There are two types of regret: The more common variation comes after an action is completed. The second is the regret of not doing something or making a certain choice  — “I wish I had done that.”

“That” could be anything: not signing up for a seemingly interesting class, not choosing a more appealing major, not asking your crush out on a date, not joining a fraternity or not studying abroad. Whatever, you know.

Honestly, I have felt this second kind of regret way too often. But a recent morning bus journey gave me a fresh perspective on the matter. To put things into context, I was flying back to the U.S. from India and had just arrived in Philadelphia early Monday morning. Extremely tired, I had two options to get into Washington — either take the 5:45 a.m. bus or comfortably sleep over at my cousin’s and leave Philly in the afternoon. The professor of my only class Monday had emailed us saying he’d be giving a significant quiz in class that day. So to get to College Park before 11 a.m. — when that class began — I chose to take the earlier bus. By 5:15 a.m., I was dutifully standing in line for the bus at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station.

Let me stop here and go over how I would have felt had I not made this choice.

Had I instead chosen to rest and leave after noon, I would have missed that class and the important quiz for sure — and probably sulked about losing a chunk of easy points later on. Who knows, maybe at the end of the semester I would have realized I missed out on a better grade (very likely, with the plus-minus grading policy) because I had not made the effort to take the earlier bus on that cold, damp morning. Immense regret, right?

But here’s what happened. First, the bus got into the station at 6:15 a.m., half an hour after its scheduled departure time. Then, the guy who was supposed to check everyone’s reservations before letting the passengers on wasn’t there, for whatever reason. The driver, completely pissed about her colleague’s absence, didn’t have a list of reserved passengers. By the time she let everyone on board and started the vehicle’s engines, it was 6:45 a.m., an entire hour late. But it got even better. Fifteen minutes into our journey, I noticed we were simply driving around the 30th Street block. Sheepishly, the driver made an announcement: “Hey folks, the usual route to get onto the highway is under construction and I am not sure what road to take. This might take some time to figure out. I request you to be patient.” By the time we actually hit Interstate-95, we were two-and-a-half hours off schedule. You probably guessed it: I was late for my class.

The point of this anecdote is not that I should have rested and taken the afternoon bus after all. It is that had I done that, I would have regretted not choosing the ideal. Little would I have known how imperfect the ideal was.

This happens entirely too often. We visualize the ideal situation of the choices we end up not making and feel badly that we’re not in those ideal situations. But you never know how ideal your life would have actually been in those situations. So don’t fret over what you have not done or have not chosen. Enjoy what you have already.

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