What if is such a bad thought to have. I frequently have it.
The past four years of my life have been filled with a lot of what ifs.
Most of the time, I just wonder about all the people I could have dated. But, lately, I have the stupidest thought that is bothering me.
In the summer coming into my junior year, I was between plans. I had received an offer for this impact investing firm in Utah, or I could stay in Philadelphia to do research with a professor at Wharton. The impact investing firm offered me a lot of money, more than I had earned that summer with my three jobs in various capacities, yet I was turned off because it was in Utah. I was afraid of discomfort at the time, so I didn’t take the offer and instead stayed in Philadelphia.
Lately, I’ve been wondering about the life I would have had if I had taken that offer. It is more symbolic more than anything. What if I had a life where I was more embracing of discomfort at an earlier age? It was an opportunity to live in Utah for two and a half months, an opportunity I will never have again for the rest of my life. Yet, at the time, it was just something that I didn’t want.
I have difficulties reconciling my values now with the values I have had in the past. I am the same person, of course, but I am sometimes amazed by how differently I thought about my own life back then. I valued such different things, and it is such a consuming thought to think about how my life could have been different if I value the things that I do now back then.
I think the function of regret is like that. If I progressing through a function f(x) right now, I wonder what it would been like to take f'(x) and retroactively construct a past where I would be able to live through the function that I have right now. But, of course, since time only moves forward, it is quite a useless train of thought.
I am literally working in finance after graduation, but I can’t help but wonder about what if I discovered my love for finance sooner. I wonder if working at this impact investing fund would have helped me do that. And, given the nature of counterfactuals, I guess I will never know. But, I wish I could know. So much of my time as an undergraduate has been just floating from one set of values to the next set of values. I probably still have not solidified into my final set of values, but I wish I could. If I were, I would be able to live without regret.
If I have a defined set of values, then I would be able to stay true to myself without ever having to worry if I am betraying myself. During the summer, I don’t even know if I did stay true to them. There were diverging values that were in conflict with each other; one sought security while the other sought novelty. Now, that I have the clarity of hindsight, I wish I had picked novelty over security. It would have allowed me to become the person that I wanted to be a lot sooner. But, as I reflect on my rationale back then, I question whether I was true to myself.
Given the nature of age, we progress towards a set of values that are exposed through our experiences. I suppose a lot of my values now have been defined by what I perceive as regrets in the past. This is one of those incidents. Maybe I knew that I should have taken my initial offer but chose to do something contrary to my nature. That is also a possibility. I have been known to act against my self-interest frequently. But, in regards to the nature of my internal conflict, I am frustrated that I did not know what I do now back then. I wish I knew more about what I valued, so I could stay true to the life that I wish to have, instead of floundering about and making decisions that may have been the result of faulty justification.
I continue to progress to a perception of what I value. Hopefully, I can reach a defined system of values that address most conflicts in my life, so I won’t have the uncertainty of juggling between different set of values that could possibly results in regret. That is what I do not want: regret. And, if I find these values (or, perhaps more accurately, order the values in a way where I would be able to resolve conflicts between them), then I would finally be able to live without questioning the what ifs in my life.