How to stop worrying, and move on
March 21, 2008 10:43 AM   Subscribe

How to acknowledge my situation, without acting as though I'm apologizing for my past?

I'm returning to school, for a second degree (Bachelors no MA, why in a bit) after sometime being in the real world. The process and the path that is bringing me to this seems fairly natural 'next step' in my general trajectory.

I'm fairly excited, very motivated and I feel pretty clear on my goals - but everyone around me is treating me very badly for making this choice - either openly or quietly passing judgment on me because I'm going for a second degree, as if I was finally coming to my senses and boy are they glad.

This is making me very bitter, especially at my parents - because their encouragement is this two tone support of my now and bashing my past choices. That I was once foolish and now I am no longer.

At the same time - I feel pretty certain this would never be an issue if I had just jumped right into an MA degree - which I chose not to, which I thought was wise, but people are treating me as if another Bachelors is admitting some guilt. I simply don't - not until the brought it up and started harshing my mellow.

My reason for being vague is because this isn't unique. I feel like I do it to myself as much as anyone: Damning my past for what I know now. Like "If I only paid attention in Italian class, I would know another language and I wouldn't be a dummy." I know this isn't true, because I spent that time ignoring class because I was happily chasing girls and enjoying myself in that. Probably not as long lasting - but still happily part of my education.

I didn't do any number of things because I chose this path to happiness. Despite knowing this - their views, which feed my insecurities, are wearing me out. I don't want want to toss away my past as draft 1, but this atmosphere is pretty deadly to this conviction.

My question is, how can I come to terms with this, acknowledging the choices I made, to myself and to others, without then treating it or thinking about it as a big mistake?

How can take what I know in my head with rational confidence and make it something real to me so I can stop feeling so bad about my past?
posted by mrgreyisyelling to Human Relations (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You just go ahead with your business and ignore what other people think. Really. You're an adult, right?

I'm a college dropout, though. What people think of obtaining a second degree is not a problem with which I've ever had to deal. I've done just fine for myself with my career, and while I'm sure my family disapproves of my degree-lessness, I think a few of them are more upset that I actually made it on my own without one and that they can't wag their finger at me. I enjoy that.

So, you know. Just do well for yourself. Forget what anyone says.
posted by katillathehun at 11:03 AM on March 21, 2008

Print out your post and carry it around in your wallet. You have a lot of good ideas about why your current course of action is right for you now, and why your past course of action was good for you then. When people, especially parents, try to push your buttons on these topics, and that is something your parents can do especially effectively, read over your post to remind yourself of your own good thinking.

Perhaps thinking of these encounters as potential lessons might be useful. Obviously, not allowing yourself to be undermined in what you know to be a good decision for you is an important and useful skill to have. If you can view the people denigrating your past decisions (even if you are the one doing the denigrating) as trying to teach you that lesson, perhaps it makes those kinds of comments easier to tolerate, and also reminds you of the greater point- that your own decisions about your happiness and your future are the ones that matter.

Also, you mention your parents specifically. I don't know if you have tried this in the past, but perhaps just sitting down with them and explaining some of your thoughts as you outlined them above might change their attitude? It certainly is possible for them to be supportive and grateful for your current choices without them also expressing their disapproval of your past choices. Judging by my own parents, they might not realize that they are doing this at all, or the extent to which they are doing it, or that they are bothering you as much as they are. Or they might come up with some explanation which puts their reactions into a more sympathetic context for you. If you all have a good relationship, that might be a fruitful course of action.
posted by that possible maker of pork sausages at 11:03 AM on March 21, 2008

You could tell your parents, "You know, if I'd done thing X back then, I probably would have hated it, and ended up abandoning it entirely. I've grown in interesting ways -- many of which are hard for me to quantify -- and I'm in a different kind of mindset now. I'm really glad I waited and made the decisions I did." Which seems to be the more truthful approach, and definitely more constructive than my gut instinct response: "Get off my BACK already you don't UNDERSTAND ME"
posted by Greg Nog at 11:04 AM on March 21, 2008

My question is, how can I come to terms with this, acknowledging the choices I made, to myself and to others, without then treating it or thinking about it as a big mistake?

You're an adult. You don't have to answer to anyone about the university degrees you choose to pursue, and when you choose to pursue them. If you allow these people to make you feel bad for not pursuing the right educational path sooner, you are relinquishing your right and power to run your own life. Don't let other people's ridiculous mind-games and guilt trips cause you to second guess your path in life.
posted by jayder at 11:06 AM on March 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Are you sure that "everyone around you" is "treating [you] very badly" about your choice?

(Personally, I don't get why they would judge you for getting another BA instead of an MA. I mean I literally don't understand what the judgment is about. Is it that you were screwing around as an undergrad, and now it's like you're repeating a grade?)

But even assuming there's a valid reason why someone who cares about you might hold this opinion, it still sounds like you're doing some distorted thinking here. Is "everyone around you" really "treating [you] very badly"?

I wonder whether the real judgment here isn't yours, which you are then projecting onto those around you. Because you're imagining that people you care about are judging you about something you secretly still feel bad over, that story has a special power to get under your skin and bug you.

So focus on your own self. If you're dragging around any guilt, it's time to throw it in the river. Write yourself a letter forgiving yourself and praising yourself for all the "mistakes" that have led you where you are.

Once you've done that, I predict other people's opinions won't hold as much power over you anymore. And good luck in school!
posted by ottereroticist at 11:11 AM on March 21, 2008

Everything -- good, bad, and ugly -- that has happened up to now IS part of your education, including your time in the real world. Every experience has made you who you are, and prepared you in some way to take the next step in your journey. If other people want to judge you for not hewing closely enough to their preconceived plans for your life, that's really their problem, and not yours.
posted by somanyamys at 11:11 AM on March 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, you gave the seeds of an answer in your question:

I know this isn't true, because I spent that time ignoring class because I was happily chasing girls and enjoying myself in that. Probably not as long lasting - but still happily part of my education.

If you believe that, reinforce it and find some more supportive friends. Gradually you'll become more confident as you succeed on your own terms. If you don't really believe it, you can focus on coming to terms with your own perspective on why other people are acting the way they are.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 11:12 AM on March 21, 2008

My question is, how can I come to terms with this, acknowledging the choices I made, to myself and to others, without then treating it or thinking about it as a big mistake?

Since you can't control their reactions, it's good that you're focusing on yourself. It sounds like you're ambivalent about the path that led you here - you focused on areas other than the actual academics, learned a lot of stuff, but now you want to do another bachelors, and you're feeling judged.

I think it's okay to acknowledge that the choices you made then might not be the choices you'd make now. It may take time for you to forgive yourself for whatever misteps you feel you may have made, or things you'd do differently if you had the chance. Just remind yourself that was then, this is now, and beating yourself up about it solves nothing.

Your parents may feel you wasted your previous education, and they're entitled to their opinion - but you're also entitled to tell them, "I know how you feel about my last go 'round. Let's just drop that, and just support me in what I'm doing now."
posted by canine epigram at 11:12 AM on March 21, 2008

Since both good choices and bad choices... and good choices that other people think are bad... lead to life lessons learned and experience attained, I wonder if you could focus specifically on what you learned or gained by taking the path you did, whether it was personal growth or skills or perspective or life enjoyment. You could focus on that in your own mind, dropping away any regrets since they aren't helpful and just weigh you down, and could perhaps bring it up reactively or proactively with the people giving you the two-tone treatment. Just tell them once that you feel good about your life path, here's what you got out of it, and it makes you feel bad when you know or think you perceive their scorn for it, and could you please start fresh from today.

It can sometimes feel like disingenuous rationalization to sort of polish the internal narrative you tell yourself about your life, but I'm finding that it's really the healthiest thing to do. Regret's only function after a certain point is as a toxicant. Take the best parts of whatever you've done, write those parts down in the log book in ink as the official story, and move forward.

One other thing that may be helpful in the short term is to realize that the situation you're currently in will pass quickly and you will get relief from these emotions. Knowing something is temporary helps to not feel so bad about it. Even the people who disapproved of your path will forget about that soon enough once you're in school and doing what they think you should be doing. You won't have to deal with it. So that leaves just the voice inside your head to reconcile.
posted by kookoobirdz at 11:13 AM on March 21, 2008

My question is, how can I come to terms with this, acknowledging the choices I made, to myself and to others, without then treating it or thinking about it as a big mistake?

Also -- remember nothing you can say or do gives you power over what other people say or think. The only thing you can control is your own beliefs and actions. So don't worry about them!
posted by ottereroticist at 11:14 AM on March 21, 2008

I strongly suspect many others will reply to your thread, and they may have better advice than I do. My somewhat disconnected thoughts are:
  1. hindsight is 20-20, and mature individuals (i.e., those with their own past regrets) will not highlight another person's
  2. You mention your parents and families often micromanage educational decisions (to be fair, sometimes they fund them). But C. S. Lewis in one of his books said that family members often treat each other in ways that would never be tolerated by friends or acquaintances (i.e., nasty). If that is the case here, don't make excuses where they are not deserved, nor let their negativity bleed into your life.
  3. personally, as someone who spent their youth doing what everyone thought I should, I can tell you that I have many, many regrets and it is way too late now to do anything about most of them; at least you are young enough (presumably) to have followed your dreams and then adjusted to find new might be wiser than I was (though I don't know you so I can't be sure).
  4. Finally, try to "own" both your failures and your successes, they are what define you, and in the long run make you strong.

posted by forthright at 11:15 AM on March 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

You have no idea how frustrating it is, from a parent's point of view, to wath your child make (what you think are) bad choices.

My son just dropped out of school. It's driving me insane because I know, from my own experience, what a mistake he's made. After all, I dropped out of school when I was 17, and I've regretted it ever since.

When I rant to my mother about how frustrating it is, she just smiles and says "you can't put an old head on young shoulders". And she should know, 'cos when she was 17 she dropped out of school, and when I made the same mistake it drove her insane, too.

And so the wheel turns. You're just getting the overflow from their frustrated love for you. Be patient and serene with them, and just say "Yep, you're right, but you can't put an old head on young shoulders". It's a useful catch-all, and it helps the water roll off this duck's back.
posted by Leon at 11:24 AM on March 21, 2008

There is something I call, "The Slender Thread of Knowing." This thread is easy to be stomped on, doubted, crushed and dismissed. It may also be the tensional integrity that keeps our self-worth and dignity intact.

Nobody knows you better than yourself. It's cheesy....and true.

This may inspire you......

The video:

The Wired article:
posted by goalyeehah at 11:24 AM on March 21, 2008

If your parents paid for your first degree it should not be too difficult to say "I'm sorry I have wasted your money, I have matured now and I really want your support". You can say this without putting yourself down for any specific actions, since all that you did has contributed to your present maturity.

On the other end, as I get older I get more gripey (if there is such a word) and you might be able to shrug off your parents remarks if you attribute them to old age. Don't be bitter, be forgiving. Sooner or later they will go on to gripe about other things.
posted by francesca too at 11:40 AM on March 21, 2008

When I was 15 my dad told me I needed to be a librarian. I thought he was insane. Why would I want to do something that boring and lame, for god's sake! I was going to be an Artist.

Ten years later, after quitting an art degree, getting a B.S. in anthropology and realizing the only job I could get was in a call center I went back to school and got my MLS.

My dad gave me a good bit of grief about how if I'd listened to him the first time round, my career would already be full swing, blah, blah, blah. I just replied, "But Dad, if I'd done it right the first time you couldn't be smug about it now."

The teasing ended and my parents finally admitted that I will, regardless of my age, do as I see fit and don't regret stuff. Really, you just need to be confident about yourself. You are the sum of your parts. Your past decisions inform your future and really, the most explanation I think anybody needs to give (for most things) is: "It seemed like the right thing to do at the time."
posted by teleri025 at 11:42 AM on March 21, 2008

Ugh. I was in a similar situation.

Firstly, it may be that you've chosen a major (for your second BA) that is at odds with what most people consider "marketable." If you're from a smaller and/or blue collar town as I am, it seems many people aren't at peace with liberal arts majors; they want to see results, dammit, and that means doing something "marketable" like business or accounting or nursing. Those who study dance, art history, or even political science are viewed with some wariness: "What are you going to do with THAT?" This may be one reason you feel that so many people are unsupportive of what you're doing. It simply doesn't correlate with what they understand success to be.

Secondly, when you say "everyone" is treating you very badly about going for your second BA, do you mean "everyone" or do you mean "a lot of people?" I find it curious that "everyone" feels this way and, if "everyone" is an accurate description, I'm wondering if maybe there is some really pronounced guilt/uneasiness/insecurity in YOU that is being picked up by others and reflected back to you. Y'know, when you discuss things in a half-hearted tone or express some waffling, those around you are more likely to latch onto that and make comments such as, "Are you *sure* you want to do that?" It's sort of a bizarre attempt to be supportive in that they want to stop you from embarking on something big and expensive about which you appear to be unsure.

Thirdly, and surprisingly, I learned along my own similar path there is a certain amount of envy that can arise in these situations. Like you, I got berated for "wasting" my time going to grad school when I could have been working (never mind that I was in fact working). I think there is a common view that college is a time of irresponsibility and partying and the fact you're going back into that fold after some life in the "real world" can lead to people think you're shirking your responsibilities. Many people don't understand that adult students usually take their studies much more seriously than their 19-year-old counterparts. And those spring break images from Girls Gone Wild do little to feed people's notions of what college life is all about. So from time to time, I'd get comments such as, "It must be nice to have all that money and free time to just leave work to go back to school." What those people were not understanding was that school IS work, just in a different form.

You ask, "how can I come to terms with this, acknowledging the choices I made, to myself and to others, without then treating it or thinking about it as a big mistake? How can take what I know in my head with rational confidence and make it something real to me so I can stop feeling so bad about my past?"

You can do so by firstly understanding that these people's reactions have more to do with them than with you. It's tough, but each time you get knocked down, you have to recall the passion you have for the route you've chosen. You might have to fake it till you make it for some time, e.g., paste a smile on your face and enthusiastically say, "I'm really excited about this and can't wait to do A, B, and C" whenever they start nagging or looking askance. This is amazingly wearing on the detractors. After a while it shuts them down completely.

Also, you say you are excited and motivated about your decision, so revel in that. Remember that your focus will shift once you are actually entrenched in your studies. Once things get rolling with school, you can point to projects you've successfully done, interesting students you've met, and awards/grades you've received. This is helpful not only to stop the external whining, but also any internal lack of confidence you're feeling.

You will also likely find a better support network once classes are in full swing. There's a good chance you can locate others who are also in your position and you can meet with them to find common ground. This will do wonders for your self-esteem.

Good luck! Yea for you!
posted by December at 11:42 AM on March 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

My question is, how can I come to terms with this, acknowledging the choices I made, to myself and to others, without then treating it or thinking about it as a big mistake?

Had you not made the choices you made in the past, and had you not lived your life exactly the way you have lived it, you would not be at this point right now, with the goals and aspirations you have today. Every experience and decision you make throughout your life contributes to creating you. No apologies are necessary, you are who you are, and where you are in life, and that is enough for today. Good luck with your studies =)
posted by headnsouth at 2:22 PM on March 21, 2008

Is the following true for you?

Then, I made the best decisions for myself that I knew how to make at the time, with the tools, experience, and knowledge I had at the time. Yes, with the benefit of hindsight, I would have maybe done a few things differently, but then I wouldn't be who I am now.

Now, I am making the best decisions for myself that I know how to make given the tools, experience and knowledge that I have now. I appreciate you all allowing me that, because I'd rather regret gaining this knowledge and personal insight, than regret not gaining it.

If it is true for you, repeat it to yourself as necessary, and to others as well.
posted by lunaazul at 3:12 PM on March 21, 2008

Who would willingly forfeit any experience that is not shameful or crippling?
posted by tkolar at 3:33 PM on March 21, 2008

"How can take what I know in my head with rational confidence and make it something real to me so I can stop feeling so bad about my past?"

I think the answer to your question is simple. Make it work this time, with the 'rational confidence' you referred to above.
posted by LiveLurker at 7:24 PM on March 21, 2008

Make the point that your mistakes is how you've gotten where you are.
posted by filmgeek at 6:36 AM on March 22, 2008

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