The Do Over

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Two surveys in recent years taken by married people showed that more than one third of people would not marry their current spouse if they had to do it all over again.  Another survey showed more than half of women would not marry their current husband if they had do to it all over again.

 

I think these surveys while probably far from perfect mirror a bigger picture. And that is once we get to be middle age we begin to question the decisions we made and rethink all the what ifs.  We wonder if we could and should have made better decisions or waited to make certain decisions.  The young tend to be impatient not understanding the long term impact of their decisions.

 

So that got me to thinking.  For most of mankind there wasn't much of an argument.  Where you ended in life was determined by family lineage.  Born a male to a peasant farmer and survived the many airborne and infectious diseases as a youngster you would still be peasant farmer.  Daughter, you'd marry a peasant farmer.  Starting with the Industrial Revolution and in particular the Educational and Technology Revolution post WW2 this entire dynamic changed.  In the year 1800 little boys and girls weren't asked what they wanted to be when they grew up.  They were in 1960.

 

This leads me to my point.  Young people are required to make lots of decisions that can be life altering.  What to do after high school, what major to undertake in college, what field to start working in, who they marry, and where they settle down.  Now sure some people are very, very happy with their choices and some are able to alter their life course.

 

The problem seems to be when we get to the point we begin to question our earlier choices we're at a different stage in life.  There are mouths to feed, bills to pay and commitments to be kept.  Moreover, following your passion at age 45 isn't always possible.  You financially can't start from entry level, assuming some employer would even hire you as entry level. Simply going off to college for another degree might not be practical and the degree doesn't mean you are going to get hired in that field.

 

I sometimes think we should change the order of things.  First go out and work various jobs and see what appeals to you then pursue the education or training that's needed.  I think people need to date quite a bit and yes have (responsible) sexual relations before deciding if this is the one to marry 

 

Young people usually lack life experience, have limited maturity and self awareness, and get barraged by a mountain of bad advise from adults.  Furthermore, they are expected to make decisions in rapid fire.  Choose a college, declare a major, find a job related to that major, find a spouse, get married, settle down.  No wonder at age 45 they are second guessing their occupation and the person they married (not always their first spouse either).

 

When I was in my teens in the 70s I wanted to be a firefighter or truck driver (the CB radio craze at the time). Parents, teachers, friends' parents-no way go to college.  All these years later I realized that if I had followed my head and heart I'd probably have done much better and been happier.  Not to mention as a firefighter retired now with a generous pension.   By my 40s my passion would have been commercial airline pilot.  But flight school training and getting the number of flight hours to be hired by a regional carrier making $15K a year well exceeds $100K.  I didn't have an idle $100K+ and didn't have anyone to support me while I worked for McDonalds wages for a few years.  Not to mention airlines don't hire 45 year old inexperienced pilots.

 

Now some people look back and wouldn't change a thing.  Some people were able to change mid stream.  For others the realization comes to late.  By then dye has been cast and there's no going back.

Comments

Tubularsock Added Feb 10, 2018 - 5:42pm
These dilemmas you point out George are one of the prime reason for alcohol and drug abuse in this country.
 
A loss of self worth due to "trapped" life choices.
 
And then throw in depression on top of it and you're fucked!
opher goodwin Added Feb 10, 2018 - 6:05pm
George - past generations never had to make many choices. The options were slim. Now we have a whole smorgasbord to choose from and a range of new options open up before us every day. No wonder we feel dissatisfied. We are taught to be good consumers and try something new all the time. New things are on offer all the time. What we have is rarely as good as what we could have had or might still get.
Besides, in relationships, biology is against us. The endorphin rush only lasts seven years. We are programmed to be unfaithful and mix our genes. Variation is good for survival.
Katharine Otto Added Feb 10, 2018 - 7:19pm
George,
Interesting article and ideas.  We do have more choices now, but social expectations have not caught up.  For instance, I believe a break between high school and college should be encouraged, unless a student is sure of her path.  College can be a waste of time and money for those who haven't experienced "real world" working conditions.  In my experience of liberal arts education, college existed as an ivory tower that had no concept of how to prepare students for life ahead.  
 
I've heard young people are waiting longer to get married, buy homes, have children, and even get driver's licenses.  Maybe they've learned from their parents' mistakes.  
George N Romey Added Feb 10, 2018 - 7:32pm
Katharine in fact they are.  At least in my experience more are skipping college.  They might be forced to live with parents but figure they'd be living with parents after college anyway, not making much more money but with a crushing load of student and credit card debt.  And I'm tired of hearing "well they should get a better major."  Currently only about a third of STEM graduates work in STEM related jobs.  So if we put another 10 million of STEM college graduates out there what will happen?
 
Buy a house?  Someone needs to save at least $25K for closing costs, down payment and other expenses tied to buying a house.  Few young people have that kind of money and Mommy and Daddy Baby Boomers don't either to give.
 
 
Leroy Added Feb 10, 2018 - 9:20pm
An octogenarian suggested to me many years ago that marriage should be a renewable contract.  If one side didn't want to continue, you went your separate ways.  Everything is in the contract on how things are split up.  No courts involved.  Sounds like a good plan to me.
 
So many of my friends went to college wanting to be a marine biologist, encouraged by Jacques Cousteau.  None of them made it.  If you can't do the chemistry, biology is not for you.  Universities bear some of the responsibility for letting students study whatever they want.  The last thing we should be asking students is "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  I agree that a waiting period after high school makes sense.  Good time to enter the military.  Those that have co-op'ed during college seem to do better in life.  I would like to see more of that.  A former boss who immigrated from Germany told me that Germany had an apprentice program.  If you wanted to be an engineer, for example, you had to be an electrician apprentice or something similar for a couple of years.  Makes sense to me. 
 
Today, our youth are amassing massive debt just trying to figure out their place in life.  That's a sad way to start out your career, especially if you discover that you don't like your choice.  You're trapped.  There has to be a better way.  A free college education only exacerbates the problem.
George N Romey Added Feb 10, 2018 - 11:24pm
Leroy I agree. I think young people should be required to work for 2 years before college. Through work we discover ourselves. For the first time we are spending a good portion of our day with people not of our choosing. That doesn’t happen in high school.
 
Also careers change over time. Finance has become too much Excel spreadsheet and not much else. It’s mental “dancing with yourself.”
 
 
Jeff Jackson Added Feb 11, 2018 - 2:35am
Nice article George. I might add, if you are of a certain age, what you would like to be is irrelevant, because no one will give you the opportunity. I frequently ask people how they got into whatever occupation they are in, and many completed educations in different fields but couldn't get a job in those fields so they got more education and went into another line of work. I don't make a habit of discouraging young people, but the reality is what you choose and what opportunities you are offered are two different things. I wouldn't discourage anyone, but reality and dreams are quite different.
opher goodwin Added Feb 11, 2018 - 4:34am
George - I've often whimsically reflected on the past and wondered if I undid some of my mistakes and took the alternative path what a different life I would have led. But I always conclude that if I'd done that I wouldn't be here, and here is pretty good. I might not have had my wife and family, my job, my friends and my writing. I wouldn't want to put that in jeopardy. My life has been full. I might not have been as successful with my writing as I would have liked but nothing's perfect.
Leroy Added Feb 11, 2018 - 5:21am
If I could do it over again, I would have listened to the German immigrant mentioned above.  At the peak of my career, he told me to get out.  There was no future left for the company for engineers.  He retired early shortly after that.  I did ok, but the bean counters took over.  It was uninteresting work after that.  It became engineering by the numbers.  The job focused more on paperwork than getting the job done right.  Prior to that, the American side was left to its own devices, since the American market was different.  The French are brilliant thinkers and I learned a lot working with them, but, when it comes to implementation, they are incompatible with Americans (pretty much the rest of the world).  I have always maintained that they shouldn't be allowed within 10M of anything programmable.  They are highly bureaucratic.  Paperwork isn't my thing. There is some encouragement; the younger crowd seems to be normal--almost, anyway.
Doug Plumb Added Feb 11, 2018 - 6:25am
School should be more well rounded, take another year or so for a professional program to learn things like English lit, philosophy, ethics, maybe a library course. I had three electives to choose in engineering. I chose two economics and one sociology. I didn't pick up my first philosophy book until I was 37.
  But knowing now what I do know, I would have jumped into a trade after high school, got my ticket, I'd have a van full of tools and I would go to school to study math and philosophy. After graduating I would build a business with my trade. I wouldn't have much of a debt to graduate with - I'd have all the work I wanted while in school.
Leroy Added Feb 11, 2018 - 6:42am
Sounds like a great idea, Doug.  I had vocational training in high school.  It gave me a leg up at the university where my fellow students had no idea about the practical application of engineering.  Some of my fellow vocational students in high school went on to open their own business--with no debt for their education!  Not everyone needs to go to a university.  I wish the moron politicians could get that through their thick skulls.
Leroy Added Feb 11, 2018 - 6:47am
To paraphrase Booker T. Washington, if students could learn one thing it would be to make oneself useful.  The world has a need for useful people.  English literature is grand, but it's not going to make you a good living.  Learn to be useful, then study English literature or philosophy or whatever makes your heart flutter in your spare time.
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 11, 2018 - 8:03am
Couldn't agree more George. There is no substitute for life experience, and it is only the rules of our packs which inhibit our desires to explore, think creatively, and just be curious and live life as it comes. 
However imo, we should never get caught in a what if scenario. We should focus on the now and attach as little emotions to the past as possible. We cannot change the past and we cannot control the future.
Cliff M. Added Feb 11, 2018 - 3:14pm
George,  I have been lucky to be married 30 years next month. Splitting up was only a situation that would make matters worse. Got two beautiful kids in the deal.
 As to careers If I had a choice to become a career carpenter again I wouldn't. If you are in the trades feast or famine is the order of business.During good times I earned a good comfortable living. From the mid 80's until the Great Recession opportunity and good positions payed well. I managed to avoid any damage from the earlier recessions but took it on the chin from the financial collapse.Right in the prime of my career.
 More should be done to teach the young where career paths will take you. With the new labor model a whole lot of dreams are going to die hard.
Doug,  In the trades the mechanical trades do well in most economic environment's . Upgrades and repair are a constant need in existing structures.During downturns carpenters and those responsible for actually building structures take a big time hit.Wages in the non union sector have still not recovered to pre recession levels.
wsucram15 Added Feb 11, 2018 - 5:49pm
There is something to be said for choice and also something to be said for "the simpler way things used to be".
Ive always been very independent, being on my own young and really fighting hard against the norms of what was expected so choices were thrust upon me at a time when if you made the wrong ones, ppl did not say things like "you live and learn", Experience is the name we give our mistakes", etc... so really never had the old school mentality although have encountered it.
 
Fortunately, in my life,  I met like minded ppl, and while they do encourage you to be a better person, they understand your mistakes.  This is when, lol, choices sometimes get made the most.  You do get experience and wisdom from that or you dont survive.
 
George..on the women...I keep telling you, women are in revolt, its insane. This week made it much worse.
 
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 11, 2018 - 6:25pm
I am grateful to have been married for almost 38 years, and I do not seem to be sensing any kind of women's revolt. Sure the #metoo thing has put a lot of assholes in their place, and rightfully so imo. 
Katharine Otto Added Feb 11, 2018 - 6:39pm
George,
I like Leroy's ideas, and the German apprenticeship approach.  It also occurs to me that working your way through college, paying as you go, might take longer, but people would have dynamite resumes when they graduated.  
 
We used to have shop and home economics in junior high school.  While they were sexually divided, that isn't necessary.  Both boys and girls would benefit from hands-on education in these areas.  Every adult can benefit from knowing how to cook and sew, or use a hammer and saw.
 
It also makes sense to incorporate vocational training courses in colleges and universities.  Why should they be in separate institutions?
 
The idea of a two-year break, or even a one-year break between high school and college is a good one.  I'm no fan of the military, but kids could do paid work in public works, health care, and other areas that are generally short of gofers.
Dave Volek Added Feb 11, 2018 - 7:14pm
I used to believe that we had a duty to chase down our dream job.
 
About ten years ago, CBC Radio had an interesting documentary on job satisfaction of Canadians. It seems only 15% are happy with our work situations. 85% of us would prefer to earn a similar income but doing somewhere else. And it really didn't matter whether one was highly educated or not: that 15% applied across the various social classes.
 
After that documentary, I could see that that dream-job thinking cost me some great career opportunities. These "jobs" I didn't take were not glorious by any means, but I would have three times the income I have now. And still using my head more than my back. 
 
I like the job I have now. It is paying sufficient income and is not too difficult. And there is some personal satisfaction to see students move forward. But I really would like to be earning my income doing something else. But . . . . .
 
I think Leroy said it best, so I shall repeat it:
 
Learn to be useful, then study English literature or philosophy or whatever makes your heart flutter in your spare time.
 
Statistically speaking, you are unlikely to find that right combination and experiences that land you a dream job. Be thankful if you do, but expect that you need an income to get the most out of your life.
Doug Plumb Added Feb 12, 2018 - 12:35am
re "Learn to be useful, then study English literature or philosophy or whatever makes your heart flutter in your spare time."
 
The knowledge and understanding has economic value, its just not easily measured. You cannot always correlate ones ability to think directly with income.
  If I were king it would be a requirement that people in the professions have a liberal arts education that matches. This way you don't get a society built by "clever devils".
Mark Hunter Added Feb 12, 2018 - 1:55am
It's something I've been thinking myself, for a long time. If only I'd had a little more time to mature before I made the life choices I did, at least in the way of employment and education. I also think I'd have gotten published at least ten years earlier than I did.
As for marriage, I asked my wife, and she said given the chance to do it over again--I'd have made the exact same choice.
opher goodwin Added Feb 12, 2018 - 4:40am
Doug - I agree with you - schools should have a broad remit with English Lit, Philosophy, Health, Social and Creative subjects being mandatory.
Leroy Added Feb 12, 2018 - 8:37am
I had the honor of living among the French for a while.  They are indeed brilliant thinkers.  I don't know about today, but at the time they valued philosophy as part of their education.  It is a large part of their thinking process.  IMHO, philosophy should be taught from day one.  When I was a kid I thought about things in philosophical terms.  Kids are capable.  It is an important part of how we gain knowledge.
 
Americans do something right in its educational system.  We don't get so wrapped up in analyzing every little detail that we are paralyzed.  When you try to create something that does everything, you create crap.  Americans (and Canadians) are good at getting down to what's important.  We should never lose that attribute.
George N Romey Added Feb 12, 2018 - 9:27am
Unfortunately in business ideas are being replaced with data driven only decisions. We have an entire generation that will never be forced to use critical thinking skills, instead poking through mounds of spreadsheets for an answer. I expect many of them to be very unhappy at age 50.
opher goodwin Added Feb 12, 2018 - 9:41am
George - philosophy is the basis of everything.
George N Romey Added Feb 12, 2018 - 9:46am
And that is the problem. We are forgetting how to think.
Bill Kamps Added Feb 12, 2018 - 11:05am
Another complication is that the ideal age for a wife (or girl friend) is half your age plus 7.  Check it out, it makes sense from 15 to 80.  It took many hours of regression testing and much study to determine this.  Of course this requires a periodic trade in, or you get too far away from the ideal.
 
While not a completely serious idea, it is a source of some of the problems George refers to.
 
Around 150 years ago life expectancy was 29, and therefore decisions that were made as a late teenager only needed to be valid for ten to twenty years.  Now we have life expectancy approaching 80, and who can make choices at 20 that will be valid for another sixty years ?
Dave Volek Added Feb 12, 2018 - 12:18pm
Around 150 years ago life expectancy was 29, and therefore decisions that were made as a late teenager only needed to be valid for ten to twenty years.  Now we have life expectancy approaching 80, and who can make choices at 20 that will be valid for another sixty years ?
 
Another aspect is how technology is changing. I used to be a very valuable computer operator when DOS was king. Windows 10 is befuddling me. And it's my own fault: I hung on to Windows XP for far too long. I kind of missed Windows Vista, 7, & 8, so I didn't get that transitory training and experience. We oldies need to keep up with the technology!
 
 
 
 
Spartacus Added Feb 12, 2018 - 12:52pm
Actually George, I thought you were going to go deeper and say something completely out of character for yourself . . . something meaningful.
 
I thought you were leading to the conclusion that without strong families, culture and meaningful social structures, people will find 10,000 ways to destroy their lives.  But no . . . you wallow in your own pity.
 
Instead, we get typical George.  A regretablist who seeks to live in his past and has no inclination that the past, and all its failures or success, is barely worth a footnote . . . as you turn a new, blank page, and write each day.
George N Romey Added Feb 12, 2018 - 2:45pm
William this is not about someone destroying their life. You did not read the article but just wanted your voice heard. It’s about people that make choices when they are young without benefit of life experience and knowledge. As many correctly pointed out there should be a learning period for young adults so they get a better understanding of themselves, the world of work, relationships and responsibilities tied to each.
Spartacus Added Feb 12, 2018 - 3:12pm
Sometimes George, there are no good answers or lessons for mistakes/errors we have made in our past. 
It just fucking life man!  Kids play in the street and get run over by a car.  Millions live just to find a bite of food.  Good people get cancer.
 . . . and stupid people will hang their own asses if given enough rope.  Especially young adults who have no more social boundaries.  The cult-left and our promiscuous and prolific society have assured us that safe boundaries have been completely demolished.
 
It is a gift if we can learn from our past.  But 99% of the time, there is nothing profound to learn.  If you want to live, you must at least learn this one important fact about your universe.
George N Romey Added Feb 12, 2018 - 3:43pm
These aren’t mistakes like getting arrested for drugs. It’s trying to figure out as a young person things like an occupation or where to live. Later on we wish we made other decisions. It’s why young people should first experience life before making those decisions. 
Donna Added Feb 12, 2018 - 4:35pm
George,
I wish they offer classes like i took. It was elective, but my folks agreed. I was so bored with the standard school,and how all was taught. I chose an alternative school, it had Math, English, History,Science,that was all for what you call normal classes. I took the following:
Social life studies- This was all about learning how to budget money, shop, rent an apartment, within the means of the cash assigned per the job you supposedly had! 
Criminal Justice- We had to go to court, one was family, second had to be criminal. We had to learn how the system worked, and how family court worked.Custody,payments, etc.
I took shop, and a class to learn how to make canned goods. I already knew that one( Grams taught me) But all of this was extremely interesting. I think half the issue with schools now, is they do not teach, in a way that a child can use it for the future.
As far as marriage, i am divorced. I have been with the same gent, now for 24 years. The marriage, was not meant to be, however i have no regrets.
He was a heavy drinker, had his choice of drugs, almost killed me more than once, but no i don't regret any of it, with out him, i would not have my beautiful daughter, nor my grandson. 
I guess i learned long ago, regrets get me no where, if i look forward, i can achieve a new dream, not an old one, which has most likely seen it day come and go.
My nephew took  a year off to see what he wanted to do, he is currently finding himself..His dream is to own his own business, just not sure if he wants to stay in the Country or look into our Northern sister. He finds Canada is a great place for new young business owners. 
George N Romey Added Feb 12, 2018 - 7:20pm
Most of high school is either preparation for college or a job in fast food. And that’s a shame given the opportunities we have now compared to pre WW2.
wsucram15 Added Feb 13, 2018 - 2:18am
Hey Donna..
 
Doug Plumb Added Feb 13, 2018 - 5:53am
re "We had to go to court, one was family, second had to be criminal. We had to learn how the system worked, and how family court worked.Custody,payments, etc."
 
You missed civil court - a chance to see how the law really works and what it is. I bet that was deliberate on the part of the schools. Read anything on jurisprudence theory, they talk about civil court mostly. Civil court is how we can take the system back.
Even A Broken Clock Added Feb 14, 2018 - 11:24am
Sometimes your life pathway is chosen by seemingly small things. For myself, I enrolled in college not knowing whether I wanted to major in chemistry or in chemical engineering. Well, one of the requirements for chemistry is that you had to learn either German or Russian (supposedly to be able to understand the technical information - obviously this was before computer translations were available). After two weeks of German classes, I dropped the class and declared chemical engineering as a major.
 
Turns out you take just about as much chemistry in the engineering major as a chemist would. And I got to play with real life chemical processes in my first 10 years of work, with real PhD chemists. It was a bit of the best of both worlds.
Katharine Otto Added Feb 14, 2018 - 8:44pm
George,
Thinking this over, I realized I've done pretty much what I wanted, even if things didn't turn out as I'd hoped.  Although I felt betrayed by the reality of medicine and psychiatry--because the "health care industry" changed so much and so fast after I finished training--it was an experience that enriched my life psychologically if not materially.  I still believe education is never wasted.
 
I think many fields have changed dramatically in our lifetimes.  You've written about how business has changed.  The challenge now seems to involve learning to adapt and apply the understanding in new ways.  
 
Mark Hunter Added Feb 15, 2018 - 12:12am
Sure, and it's the same for writing too, Katharine. E-mail, e-books, self-publishing, what's popular, just writing rules in general--all way different from when I started out. As for health care, I was trained as an EMT in 1980 ... most of those skills and much of the equipment are completely different, or not even used at all, today.