Moving forward after making a mistake?
May 7, 2012 2:08 PM   Subscribe

It would seem that I've f'd up, big time. Now what? How do you move forward when you're fairly sure you've made a bad decision and can't turn back. (details inside)

I'll start with the question and you can read the details beneath if so inclined.

I took a big gamble, and all signs are pointing to it being a losing one, and I'm having a very hard time avoiding the feeling that, this decision and it's aftermath will come to define the rest of my life.

My question is, are there any other mefites out there who've made a decision with far ranging consequences that ended up being a mistake, and if so, how did you move forward after that? I am more or less over beating myself up for making this decision, but it's put me on a path I didn't expect and don't want to be on, and I don't know how to move forward in a positive way.

About 8 months ago, I decided to leave a decent job in Tokyo, where I was living with my girlfriend, to go back to graduate school in the states. The specifics aren't really important for this question, but briefly, I loved living in Tokyo, wanted to marry my girlfriend eventually, and really didn't want to leave, but was worried about future career prospects (and also a bit insecure about not having made much of myself, whatever that means) and thought that, by getting my degree, I'd be able to come back to Japan, marry my girlfriend and get a better job that would allow me to live a comfortable life and eventually start a family (i just turned 30 btw, so these things are starting to press on my mind more than they used to)

Well, it was a terrible idea. My girlfriend left me after several months of trying to make the ldr thing work. I study international relations, focusing on east asia and trade in the region, and study japanese every day. I thought that I'd be able to get a better job in Japan after finishing my degree, but I've realized that this degree isn't setting me up for a better job in Japan, a place I still would very much like to return to. Moreover, I've taken on a large amount of debt to come to school, so I wouldn't even be able to return to my old job in Tokyo because the salary wouldn't cover my new student loan payments, and those payments are also going to make it very hard for me to have enough money to raise a family any time in the near future.

Where I thought I was going to end up, ie: married, in Tokyo, with a good job, ready to start a family, and where I am going to end up, ie: single, probably not in Tokyo, working a job that I'm most likely not interested in but that I have to take in order to pay my student loans, and unable to support a family for years to come, are essentially diametrically opposed to each other.

So when you feel as though you've put yourself on the wrong path, and that there's no going back to the path you wanted to be on, how do move forward positively without feeling like your life is defined by a bad decision you wish you hadn't made?

I keep trying to find a positive in this, but I'm having a hard time. Any suggestions on how to reframe this so I don't end up a bitter old man who ends up mumbling to himself over his drink at the bar about "If only hadn't left Tokyo and gone to grad school..."

Wrapped up in all of this is probably still some anxiety about getting older. I feel like these kind of mistakes are easier to write off in your early to mid 20s, but after 30, I feel like there's a lot less wiggle room to get things right, and mistakes start to really have teeth.

Oh, and yes, I'm seeing a therapist every couple of weeks. He's helped me to stop beating myself up for making this choice, but hasn't really helped me figure out how to move forward yet, so I'm appealing to the hive mind. As always, your advice and recommendations are much appreciated.
posted by farce majeure to Grab Bag (30 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Both of these scenarios are hypothetical. People are terrible at simulating the future. Don't spend too much time mourning something that more likely than not wouldn't have come to pass anyway.
posted by phrontist at 2:16 PM on May 7, 2012 [10 favorites]

Man, I can feel some of your pain. Much like killing Baby Hitler, I kinda want to go back in time and kick myself hard in the balls the moment I started to think about applying to graduate school.

All I can say is: We make decisions as best we can based on very limited information and a lot of guessing. Obviously, it doesn't always work out the way we expect. But that same unpredictability also means that a bad future we're worried about is probably equally unlikely to play out that way. I guess this is a slightly long winded way to say that you really don't know what your future looks like. You could meet somebody special tomorrow and be thrilled with your decisions up to this point because they resulted in that. As for your inner angst, as with everything else, this too shall pass. It just takes some time.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 2:22 PM on May 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'll be honest: time (and sleep) knit up the ravel'd sleeve of care.

Basically, any decision I've made with long term consequences has eventually been layered over with MORE decisions. For example: I decided in college to do philosophy, instead of my real love, early childhood ed. I was unhappy about this (and still occasionally think about other!web, who's a preschool teacher and out-of-school-time specialist) but if I hadn't majored in philo, I wouldn't have discovered feminist studies, and wouldn't have made the major decision to go to my grad school and then would not have moved down South and then wouldn't have met my husband and I can't imagine not having met him.

So yeah, it's gonna sting for a while. But eventually you realize that mistakes don't have teeth. They're ephemera, and don't define you.

(also: if the GF couldn't hack an LDR, then it's good she's your ex. Some other big relationship stressor WOULD have hit (believe me, marriage is hard) and you can't say for certain how she would have responded. Think of that as a bullet dodged.)
posted by spunweb at 2:23 PM on May 7, 2012 [18 favorites]

I feel like these kind of mistakes are easier to write off in your early to mid 20s, but after 30, I feel like there's a lot less wiggle room to get things right, and mistakes start to really have teeth.

Well there's not going to be a point in your life where you stop making big mistakes so you just have to deal with the fact that you can't predict how everything is going to work out. You obviously felt like you needed to make an improvement in your life, and you tried something you thought would do that and it didn't turn out how you expected. It seemed like the best option at the time though, and really your only other choice besides going with the best plan to improve your life would be to just do nothing, which in the long run isn't a great strategy either.

Overall life is mostly a big chaotic series of mostly unplanned events so the best you can do is make what you think are the right choices and struggle through any bad situations that you end up finding yourself in. Your situation is not what you planned, but in the grand scheme of things having to pay student loan debt and not having a clear path to success from where you are is not that horrible in terms of bad things that can happen to you. You might have lost a good relationship and a good job without much in return, but if years from now you're in a better relationship and have a better job it probably will only have happened because you've made the particular choices (good or bad) in life.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:29 PM on May 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This is what the new Battlestar Galactica series exists for.

That scene, where Kara Thrace I think is asking captain Adama if they made the right decision by jumping away from Caprica when the cylons invaded, thus sealing the planet's fate, or when they jumped from the convoy and something like 5 starships were destroyed and several thousand people lost their lives. That scene where Captain Adama puts on his badass hat and says "we can never second guess our decisions, we must move forward with the decisions we have made and hope they were for the best" or something like that.

You think I'm kidding here, but I am serious. I made a huge dumb decision with my life last year and watching that series has helped me parse through the reality of my decision tremendously.

Basically, fail forward, keep going, don't doubt yourself. Your life is at stake here.
posted by roboton666 at 2:32 PM on May 7, 2012 [26 favorites]

Oh, what I don't know about terrible decisions isn't worth discussing.

Right after 911, I left the Phone Company to become an English teacher. I felt that I was called to do this work because I had always enjoyed kids, etc. At the time there was a teacher shortage in Florida so I was able to get hired right away.

I started 1 month into the school year and was basically thrown to the wolves. I wasn't having fun, I was freaked right the eff out! The kids were taller than I was, more disrespectful than you can imagine and in no way prepared for the rigours of Freshman English (prefering instead to play grab ass, braid hair and screw around.) I spent two years dealing with teaching.

My second job was finding a job to GTFO of teaching. Luckily I was able to return to The Phone Company, all I had to do was sell my house in Florida and move myself and Husbunny to Nashville.

Then we moved to Atlanta, then we bought the house we live in and we only owe $50,000 more on it than it's currently worth!

Even so, life is good. Although there are a million things I wish I could do over, right now, in this moment, everything is fine.

As for you and grad school, try and get a full time job ASAP so that they can pick up the tab for your education. (Not sure if it's an MBA, where you can pretty much work full time around it, or something more intense). Finish it out, the only thing more of a PITA about going to grad school with loans is not finishing.

Remember, it's life. Shit happens. You didn't murder anyone, you didn't invest your life savings in a Ponzi scheme.

Enjoy the eff out of school and remember, when you know better, you do better.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:32 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: So when you feel as though you've put yourself on the wrong path, and that there's no going back to the path you wanted to be on, how do move forward positively without feeling like your life is defined by a bad decision you wish you hadn't made?

There is no path, let alone a right or wrong one. You had expectations. These were not met. There are very few "mistakes" just courses of action which either got you what you thought you wanted or not. When you have these feelings, ask yourself where the alleged "right path" was mapped out. If you can point to exactly where the objective "right thing" to do is written down on a magic glowing scroll then fine. If you cannot, ask yourself whether or not hanging on to the concept of life choices as "mistakes" and the idea of your life's course as being on a "right path" or "wrong path" is helpful to you in your life. I would suggest that it is only helpful if in some way it helps you make better decisions. I've found they don't.

Wrapped up in all of this is probably still some anxiety about getting older. I feel like these kind of mistakes are easier to write off in your early to mid 20s, but after 30, I feel like there's a lot less wiggle room to get things right, and mistakes start to really have teeth.

I didn't start my professional education in my career until I was 32. You have plenty of time.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:34 PM on May 7, 2012 [7 favorites]

I can relate in some ways. In my early 30s I left Japan to return to Canada. Although I was deeply in love with the country and really enjoyed living there, I wanted to do something more with my life - I didn't want to run a cram school anymore, and we wanted our kids to get an education in Canada. It's a decision I've regretted.

I thought I would never have any meaningful connection with Japan again, but we go back now every year for 2 months or so. Not quite perfect, but... Doing the move with a wife and kids is almost impossible.

On the other hand, you're single, and I'm pretty sure you can do it again if you try. I think the real question is, what do you see yourself doing in Japan? The job market isn't what it used to be, and even in Tokyo there are few "career"-type jobs for Westerners. It can be done, though. If you're not married, you have nothing but time.

You'll also meet someone again.

As for paying off student loans, what makes you so sure it will be easier to pay off loans in the States than in Japan?
posted by KokuRyu at 2:35 PM on May 7, 2012

Just a note - are your loans federal loans? If so, contact your loan servicer (find their number by logging into and ask them about Income Based Repayment. You may be able to hack the loans based on whatever dream job in Tokyo you have in mind, even if you can't make the 10 year repayment plan.
posted by Think_Long at 2:40 PM on May 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Take some deep breaths and relax. Ok, so you made some decisions that didn't work out the way you thought, a lot of us have, but that's no reason to feel like you've effed up your whole life. You still have plenty of time left to do that! (I kid, I kid)

30? You're still a baby. Times have changed and people are doing two things they didn't do much of before - or at least in my parents' generation: 1. Get married and have children later and 2. Change not only jobs, but careers several times in their lives.

I thought I was going to teach elementary grades. Well, I studied, got the degree and did for about 15 years and then things changed - life happened - and my only prospect was teaching high school. So I took the job - cus ya gotta pay the bills - and you know what? I love it now, been doing it for 10 years. Not what I planned, but where I landed, so having said that, I'm gonna leave you with some wise words from EM Forster: "We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. "

So, like I said, relax and regroup.
posted by NoraCharles at 2:41 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sometimes the worst thing that can happen is getting what you want. I, for example, devoted my life to chasing one particular career, to the point that I dropped out of college (twice!) for entry-level gigs in the field, poured my life into it, gradually scratched and clawed my way into that job and it took just a few months to realize I hated it. Loathed it. Oh, there were parts I liked, but there were a lot of points I didn't like, and the field was by and large a lot of dysfunctional sausage making. Maybe I got too old for it, I dunno. Point is, I spent a ton of money and lost out on a lot of opportunities chasing my dream gig, got it, hated it. So, now what?

Now I work on other things. I'm looking at going back to school next year, meaning, yes, I'll be the old guy in the back and I'll probably be starting over careerwise. But so it goes. Maybe I'll hate that, too. It's a gift, you know. You can still reboot your life given enough time, dedication, and, yes, money. And a grad school degree will open up a lot more doors and a lot more potential careers than you had before.

And there's no guarantee you'd be happier the other way around. Somewhere in the multiverse is a bitter Ghostride the Whip mad he stuck to the English degree and then went to law school because "Well, I like to write and argue, what else am I going to do?" now drinking himself into a stupor because he never got to chase his dream. Even though, as it turns out, he'd hate it.

Do the best you can with what you have, that's all you can do.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:57 PM on May 7, 2012

Just came to say you were very brave to make that decision, and yeah, it didn't work, but it was a reasonable, brave decision to make. To risk the comfort of what you already have in order to work on who you want to become says a lot about you as a person. Don't feel like you fucked up. You didn't. Only life is unpredictable and shit happens.
posted by ADent at 3:00 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not to pick at your healing scab, but I think you should either remove your real name from your profile or get the mods to make this anonymous. Why give any future employer any information that you didn't supply?

And I'm willing to bet that in the big scheme of things, this isn't the worst mistake you'll ever make. You're still very employable and have skills and experience that many others don't.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:05 PM on May 7, 2012

It is really necessary to give up hope of changing the past, and that's really what obsessively ruminating on it boils down to.

Think about if you were plunked down into an alternate universe and had ended up rolling a character that was currently single, was well-educated, knew a lot of Japanese as a second language, had debt. What would you do with that character?

Disregard any backstory about how your character ended up rolling the numbers it did- it's irrelevant.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:18 PM on May 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

The idea that there's a dream future out there that we can attain if we just do A and B and then C is insane. The fact is, life is a lottery game. The fact that I was born in America already makes me a winner compared to most of the world. I can actually find "a" job almost anywhere at any time.

I think you just have to put it all in perspective.

At the age of 28 I found myself with a B.S. degree, a wife, two kids, and about $40,000 in school debt. Oh, and no job. Trust me, it put my priorities in perspective pretty quick.

I took a job making $10 an hour working in a mail room at a law firm. I was low man on the totem pole and had to work from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. every week day. It sucked. And yet... By taking that crap job, and realizing that even with all of my education and work history I wasn't better than anyone else, I found myself enjoying life for the first time in a long time. Sure, my family didn't have much money. But I was making an honest wage doing something productive (even if it didn't fit my degree even slightly).

I worked hard and got promoted. I worked even harder and got promoted again, this time at a new location. I continued to work hard and pretty soon found myself being offered a fantastic job that paid almost three times what I started out at as a mail room guy. And if I hadn't taken that crappy job, I wouldn't be where I am today.

I didn't post all of that to brag, but to point out that you always have options. If you have to adjust your life and do something you don't like for a bit, then do it without complaining or regrets. Work your hardest. Enjoy your days off. Live life. Then if and when the time comes for your to chase your dreams, you will be a lot better prepared for it than if you had sulked about a bad decision for years and years.
posted by tacodave at 3:42 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Stop catastrophizing. Seriously. You've painted this lonely, impoverished, boring future for yourself that you don't even now if it's going to happen. You will not be able to move on in any type of healthy way if you don't stop seeing what is to come as diametrically opposed to what could have been.

Yes, I made a mistake like this ... and I'm still working through it, almost 4 years later. The first thing I did (well after wallowing and being depressed) was to set modest, incremental goals for the areas of my life that I wanted to improve, like my career prospects or my personal life. Achievable goals.

The second thing I did was realise that none of the results of that "mistake" were things that I couldn't deal with. Even your loans are something that can be negotiated. You may have to take a job you aren't thrilled about now, but you can build skills that can help you reach a job you are about later. You will meet people you would not have met otherwise. One of those people might be the person you should spend your life with.

The third thing, which I have been doing a lot more lately now that things have settled down somewhat, is to be appreciate what I have now. I have the best job, best boyfriend, best apartment, and best friend I have ever had in my life, and I am far happier now than I ever was. I would have none of those things had I not made what I have bemoaned as one of the biggest mistakes of my life. Nor could any of these positive things come if I had stayed stuck listening to the "shoulda-woulda-coulda" chorus in my head that told me that if I couldn't have the life I had planned, I'd have no chance at a good life at all. My life certainly isn't perfect and all sunshine and rainbows and kittens, but my life is better because I am better.

It ain't easy. I can't really help you with specifics, based on your question. But it can be done.
posted by sm1tten at 4:21 PM on May 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

Your decisions just isn't as catastrophic as you're making it out to be. It might still turn out to have excellent results if you play your cards right.

1. I second looking into different loan repayment schedules, including income-based loan repayment. That by itself could dramatically alter what jobs you're able to take. For government jobs, there is also a federal loan forgiveness program.

2. I can't imagine that being able to speak, read, and write Japanese well wouldn't help you get a job in Japan -- and you are learning how to do that in your program. For that alone, your program should get you better jobs.

3. You need to find out who has the jobs/career you want and what it takes to get there. Do you want to do something for which int'l affairs training/credentials might be useful? Talk to people, read up, educate yourself about your options.

You can use the time you're in school to network, if you remain there. You still have time -- look around for the right professors to work for. They might be able to hook you up with cool jobs. There may be very useful internships you could take. Be aggressive in using your time at school to set yourself up for a good career -- or else decide that this degree isn't going to be useful in that effort, and leave now.

4. Relatedly, what makes you think you have to go back to your old job in Tokyo? Why not look for new ones that would pay you more because of the degree you now have? And again, perhaps with the right internship, you could make yourself even more attractive, or even get an offer of full-time employment.

5. You can meet someone else.
posted by shivohum at 5:13 PM on May 7, 2012

Best answer: My mother is a strong believer in fate, and all of my successes and good fortune have been greeted by her insistence that this was meant to be and that this was the perfect job/boyfriend/car/apartment/class for me. And for a long time it was difficult for me to reconcile the fact that I was unhappy with the fact that it seemed to people like my mother that I was on a very clear path towards... something. I had nothing else lined up, so how could I quit my job or leave my boyfriend or move to a different city when everything had seemed all worked out?

And finally I read about the sunk cost fallacy, and realized how vulnerable to it my mother is. Yes, you have sunk a lot of time and money and energy into the life you wanted in Japan. But that doesn't mean that you're married to it. You will meet another woman, you will get another job, you may move back to Japan or you may not. When these things happen you will (like my mother) believe that they were meant to be, and that your path led you there. It's human nature. Try not to think of what's happened as mistakes you've made, or time you've wasted. As long as you're moving, you will get somewhere.

So write a letter to the man who stayed in Japan, married his girlfriend, and kept his job. Say goodbye to him, burn the letter, and have a drink to his memory. Because that's not you anymore, that's someone else.

(I left my friends, relationship, job, and hopes of grad school to move to a foreign country where I didn't know anyone. I tossed and turned for weeks every night for the first month thinking that it was the biggest mistake I had ever made. Now I have a great job and I'm very happy. This doesn't mean that moving here was the "right" choice. It just means that there are very few choices you make that will ruin your life.)
posted by ke rose ne at 5:17 PM on May 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

Every good thing in the entire rest of your life will be as a result of the decisions you have made.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:22 PM on May 7, 2012 [7 favorites]

There's a story about two monks who are traveling and come upon a river crossing. A young woman is at the crossing in very fine clothes and asks for help in crossing the river. The first monk says they cannot help because they have taken a vow and are not allowed to touch women. Nevertheless, the second monk picks up the woman and carries her, dry, across the river, and she goes on her way. The first monk is shocked into silence at his companion's breaking of his vows, and many miles later finally asks the second monk how he could possibly dare to do such a thing. The monk replies simply "I set the woman down at the side of the river, but you are still carrying her."

Set your decisions down at the side of the river. It does you no good to dwell on them. Look forward. Take the life you have now and make the best out of it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:53 PM on May 7, 2012 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: As always, thanks again to everyone for responding here. I can't emphasize enough how helpful this has been. I spend an inordinate amount of time here at school studying by myself and it's easy for me to get too far into my own head, so bouncing these worries off of fellow mefites and getting a more rational, outside perspective is extremely valuable. Thanks again.
posted by farce majeure at 6:58 PM on May 7, 2012

If it were me, I would be wondering if, on some level, I had intentionally done this to get out if the relationship or something. If so, why?

I did a lot of therapy in my teens and twenties. Those types of questions helped me make peace with some really tough things. So I hope you will take it as a sincere intent to help and not something hurtful.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 8:31 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

8 months is not enough time to know how this decision will pan out. You're also not married to the decision. I know as a trader, your first loss is your best loss. If you really think this decision sucks, undo it. You will lose this year's tuition, but it will stop the loss.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:37 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by chapps at 11:02 PM on May 7, 2012

Sorry about the above failed post.

RE: how did you move forward after that?

First, give yourself time to move forward. It's slow going at first, especially if you are a bit in shock.

I usually think back to the information I had when I made the decision, and that reminds me that hindsight is 20-20, and to stop blaming myself for doing the best I could with what I knew at the time.

I also remember times when happenstance turned out great.

And I also find that making one positive decision to do something and then taking action works wonders in my mood. For example, volunteering somewhere you will be doing something helpful for someone else can work wonders.
posted by chapps at 11:13 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, I know this song! I actually made TWO bad career/life moves in ONE year when I was 29. One of those mistakes damn near killed my career. Like you, I was depressed and regretful about the whole thing for quite a while. It didn't help that the trajectory these mistakes put me on landed me on unemployment back at my parents' house at the age of 30.

But. 4 years later I am in a MUCH better place. Actually, a better place than I was in pre-Mistakes. I'm happier with my career and my life in general than I can ever remember being. I think this is partly because I learned some good lessons from those mistakes, and partly because life is just weird that way.

For me, the most helpful thing was finally stopping the "what if" game and just accepting that I am where I am now and there's literally no way to know what the future will be. Once I accepted my present circumstances, I started seeing a lot more good things and great opportunities in my life. If you're open to something on the Buddhist side, this video explores that idea and was instrumental in me figuring this out.

But as others have said, this takes time. It sounds like you're mourning the life you had before, and that's understandable. Don't beat yourself up for it, but also don't cling to your regret.
posted by lunasol at 11:41 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I made a huge life-altering decision while a freshman at college - and it affected the following 15 years until I was 34, located in mainland China (I'm from the US and went to college in the US). And then after somewhat of an existential crisis, decided to make another huge life-altering decision, and for some time afterwards there was the self-doubt and sometimes regret at the change I made.

By 'some time' it took years - the 'what if' game mentioned already, the questions about the effect of that early decision that would take my entire life along a certain route, the regret over 'wasted years'.

But it took marriage (during this transition period) to my best friend that helped put things into perspective. She tells me that I would not be the person I am today without those experiences, both good and not-so-good, both the things I doubt and regret as well as the things that I take for granted. In many ways I can say that my life now (over a decade after that change when I was 34) can't be compared at all to the prior phase; it is different, in a different environment, married, children, house etc. etc.

There is no going back, as you mentioned in your original post. You do have the wisdom to understand there is 'less wiggle room' in getting 'things right' as you get older, however life isn't much about huge life-determining fateful 'bets' and much more about the hard work, daily discipline, grit and stick-to-it-iveness that defines a productive individual in our society. You will see as you get older that the small things you do, the habits you nurture, start to have a cumulative and enormous impact on your life and the lives of others.

One thing that did help me in my decision making from that point, was to see the futurity of my present circumstance, and what I would look back on my life at my current age some 10 or 20 years into the future. I had a new world open up for me at the age of 34 - what career path do I choose to set out on? How would I view that choice when I'm 44? 54?

Take some additional time to mourn what you've been through, and be charitable to yourself. It's an understandable feeling, and all of us have been there.
posted by scooterdog at 6:51 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

"So when you feel as though you've put yourself on the wrong path, and that there's no going back to the path you wanted to be on, how do move forward positively without feeling like your life is defined by a bad decision you wish you hadn't made?"


There's no going back, so you need to close the door on what was and open the door to what will be. You can't undo what you've done, but you can still choose what you will do today, tomorrow, and so on. Sure, you can beat yourself up over what feels like a bad decision, but that doesn't change the position you're in now. It only makes you feel worse about the position you're in now, and that's harmful rather than helpful.

Your only option is to let the past go and make the best of the path you're on.

Remember: you drastically changed your life when you left Tokyo. Who says you can't drastically change it again? You can. If you don't like the path you're currently on, find a way to put yourself in the best possible position to make another change someday. I'd guess that probably means finishing your degree since you're going to end up with the debt either way. At least get something for it.

"My question is, are there any other mefites out there who've made a decision with far ranging consequences that ended up being a mistake, and if so, how did you move forward after that?"

I'm sure there are lots of us who have been there. Here's my story, in brief: Years ago, I was up for two jobs. One was a sure thing that I wasn't excited about at all. The other was a risk, but the upside would be huge. I didn't take the risk. I took the sure thing job and haaaaated it. The risk job came my way again, but by that point, I'd committed to the sure-thing. Heck, I'd even moved across the country for it. The risk people even said "Your stuff probably hasn't even arrived yet, right? Why not call the moving company and change the destination. It's not too late." I didn't do it. The risk job went to someone else and it turned out to be a missed opportunity of a lifetime for me. And my sure-thing job was a disaster.

That left me with two options: beat myself up over the mistake I'd made, or bust my butt trying to make the most out of the situation I'd put myself in. I made the most out of it.

I'm not going to lie and say things wouldn't have been better if I'd taken the other job. I have no way of knowing, though it's safe to assume that may be the case. But I accomplished great things at the job I took and turned it into a positive.

You can't change the past.
You can only make the best of the present and plan for the future.
Best of luck!
posted by 2oh1 at 12:45 PM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sunk costs, my friend, sunk costs. We all make choices that drive our future, and some of those choices are path we wish we hadn't followed, or had followed but didn't.

So, forget everything that you wanted; forget everything that you feel like you missed out on. It might help to remember that, yes, maybe you're worse off now, but you weren't happy then, or you wouldn't have made the choice you were looking for something better, even back then.

Still, the life you have now is the life you have now, so focus on that. You took out student loans for school, but you feel that school isn't going to set you up for the life you want. Okay, fine; can you stop school? Why go into more debt towards a goal that doesn't make you happy? Conversely, can you change your major, or change schools, or otherwise change course so that further debt leads to bigger rewards that offset the further debt AND the existing debt?

Beyond that, do you still want to live in Tokyo? You did before, presumably you can now, just with some debt...unless you relied on your girlfriend for living arrangements. So, what's stopping you from calling her and saying "Hey, you know what? I totally understand why you left me, and I really appreciate how hard you worked to stay with me long-distance. The thing is, with you gone, I realize that you are a lot more important to me than this path I'm on, and I made a mistake when I left. I can't undo the choice I made, but I can tell you that I love you, I miss you, and if the long-distance arrangement is the only thing standing in our way, I'm willing to give that up to be with you." Of course, she might say no. But then at least you'll know!

My point being: start from ground zero with the life you have, and make the best of it.
posted by davejay at 3:28 PM on May 8, 2012

Far ranging mistakes? Heh, even my ex's second ex-husband (she burned through another one) agrees marrying her was a phenomenal mistake. But it set the path toward the family and life I have today. For that I'm grateful. It wasn't obvious at the time things would turn out this way.

We live, we learn. Along the way we gain experience and insight. A few good tales to tell helps lighten the load. It's far to say you never really know what you truly want to do. But along the way you certainly do learn what you never want to do again.
posted by wkearney99 at 4:00 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

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