I've been thinking lately about regrets, and how it sometimes feels that I have rather too many of them.
Don't get me wrong – I have a pretty good life, things are generally going well, and I'm happy. Life has dealt me a lot of good cards. Being Canadian, and therefore not having to worry about war, famine or access to medical care. Coming from a good family and finding a good wife. Gaining access to the top-tier education that enables one to join the professional classes. It has, so far, been a textbook Candian-middle-class success trajectory.
When you pick a major path, you must often close off other paths. That's something that I learned many years ago, and is perhaps the main reason it takes me so long to make major decisions. I'm not one to close an alternate door unless I'm pretty sure I can carry on without coming back to it. So while it may have taken me a week to decide to skip the solar car team's Australia trip so I could accept a QA/R&D internship with the country's premier construction firm, I can look back seven years later and say yes, I would make the same call again.
What I've only recently started to understand, though, is the importance of spontaneity. There is tremendous value in taking a few chances and doing a few crazy things because the opportunity just happens to exist, right here, right now, with this exact group of people in these exact circumstances. Generally, I would either not recognize such opportunities at all, or else I'd over-analyze them to death and conclude "here's my exact battle plan for next time" – and next time would never come.
It turns out that life presents all sorts of chances to meander off the easy, pre-plotted course without really affecting the overall voyage. Most of them are so subtle that, if you aren't actively looking for them, you'll miss them completely (as I usually did). They can be as simple as dancing around the campfire, instead of quitely sitting and watching passively. Or taking your friends a bit farther down the beach so that you can feel the sun, sea and breeze au naturel instead of spreading out your towels in the crowded, overdressed, easier-to-reach areas. Or staying up late into the night to keep a fascinating conversation going over board games and beers, when the easier thing to do would be to pack it in early to avoid having to change tomorrow's schedule.
Looking back ten years, I don't regret anything I did. I do, however, regret a number of little things I missed. And I think many, if not most, of us are like that – we remember the best of times, and wish we had had more of them. It's far too easy to make your way to 40 or 50, look back, and say "where the hell did it all go?"
Voyaging the high seas is a nice 10 (12? 14?) year goal for us, but there has to be more to the intervening years than just working and saving up money. Life has to be worth living. Memories have to be made every step of the way. While the longer term goals still have to remain in sight, spontaneous opportunities along the way can't be passed up – if you have four months to get from Halifax to Newport, you'd be well-advised to gunkhole around Maine for a while in the interim rather than spending three and a half months looking through a glass of gin at the yacht club bar.
It's customary when friends get married to share unsolicited advice for the newlyweds. Katy and I like to suggest various experiences, from the expansive to the trivial, that are easy to create and that forge the kind of great memories that bind people together across time and space. One of my favourites is "Immerse yourselves in a culture you currently think is crazy," which we only figured out a couple of years ago. The last few times we've tried it, we've made great new friends, thoroughly enjoyed doing things we had never even imagined, and repeately had "I wish we'd thought of this years ago" moments.
You only get one shot at life. Big, long-term goals like "sail away to the South Pacific" are great, but what really makes life rich, vibrant and worthwhile is all the little stuff, the things you aren't expecting, that you embrace and enjoy along the way.
A bit off topic today, I know, but I hope you find it interesting nonetheless.