I am in my late 20s, and I have increasingly found myself preoccupied with regret about how I have squandered my 20s.
I have always thought of myself as unromantic, and I don't believe in "soulmates", "the One", or any of that. Yet I have recently realized that while I do not hold that ideology in terms of relationships, I have followed it to the letter in terms of vocation (this
article explains it well; I'm sort of in the opposite position of this
MeFite). After reflecting on it fairly extensively, I think that making this big mistake has been the fundamental fatal flaw of my past decade. I spent my 20s on a wild goose chase of multiple graduate degrees in the humanities, convinced that if I dedicated myself fervently and single-mindedly enough to the subject I loved, an academic career and happiness would eventually follow. Unfortunately, over the course of the last couple of years (and especially in the past couple of months), I have realized that that "in love" feeling doesn't pay the bills, and that while I love the subject I'm researching, I don't love it enough to sacrifice the possibility a stable job that pays enough to support a family and has enough work/life balance in order to do so.
I am now realizing that the measure of a good job isn't something that totally self-actualizes you and makes you feel deeply ecstatic about your work all the time; rather, a good job is something that you quite enjoy doing that pays the bills and supports the kind of lifestyle you want (having a family, etc.). I now realize that rather than pursuing that "in love" feeling, I should have made a much more clear-headed decision about vocation based not only on enjoyment and mental connection but also on practical things - stability, pay, quality of life, compatible with having a family, etc. I guess this was obvious to everyone else in undergrad, but somehow I remained oblivious then and I'm only just becoming keenly aware of it now. I deeply wish I could start again at my BA graduation and pursue some more sensible option rather than wasting the last 6-odd years on pie-in-the-sky graduate degrees in the humanities. If I had started my post-bac and med school at that point, I'd be in my residency by now, looking forward to being gainfully employed at something I liked. As it is, in a year's time when I'm finished my PhD (hopefully!) I'm effectively going to have to start again, having lost the better part of a decade of my life. Even worse, I so fully had all of my eggs in the academia basket that I neglected investing as fully as I wish I had in romantic relationships, friendships, enjoying free time, etc. I wish I had spent my 20s starting on a career path that was both enjoyable and sensible, and I also wish I had focused on dating and getting married, really cultivating the friendships that I have and enjoying them, spending time with family, and just giving more of myself to myself. Looking back, I think I made a lot of quite bad choices, and invested myself far too heavily in things that I now don't consider to be worthwhile. I feel like I chose to be a monk for the better part of a decade for a religion that I now don't believe in. Obviously, what I need to do at this point is to get over it and move on - spilled milk, water under the bridge, and all of that. But I'd love any mental hacks or ways of framing this that would help me do this. I realize that all of this sounds rather whiney, navel-gazing, and first-world-problems-ey - sorry! It's just been something that my mind keeps insistently returning to lately, and I wish I had a better way of dealing with it.