top of page

Why I Learned To Forget Regrets and Ignore the Future

First published on LinkedIn, 11th September 2015

I've been very lucky recently to be able to go back to my old University town with work.

It's been a seriously long time since I had walked those streets - over 15 years, in fact. What struck me most wasn't so much what had changed with the city but what I had missed when I was there. How had I never been to the art gallery? There was so many streets and corners that I remembered walking past but never really took in. What was really interesting was how that made me think about the decisions we make and the actions we take to move us along our imagined or planned path to success and self-fulfilment.

Wolverhampton is an Anglo-Saxon market town but I chose to study there in 1998, moving from often-sunny, coastal Adelaide in South Australia to the often-rainy, land-locked West Midlands. Not an immediately obvious smart move! For three years, I studied mostly at the University's Dudley Campus but socialised most often on the Main Campus, close to the 11th century St. Peter's church, and then I spent another year as a sabbatical officer. It might all have been so different if Scotch College had provided me with predicted grades...

Some of the most noticeable changes were to the University itself, which has enjoyed several multi-million pound investments over the years and now looks so modern, clean and inviting, I'm convinced that if I had been there now, I might even have enjoyed studying. The old stomping grounds of The Moon Under Water, Hog's Head and The Posada pubs, McDonald's and The Pork Joint, Beatties and the Mander Centre are all still there but the bus station is practically futuristic compared to the old shelters.

'What if I could go back and start again?'

If you have a gram of imagination, you've probably thought 'What if I could go back and start again?'. I've often wondered how my life might have turned out if I had chosen not to go to Australia at 16, if I could have been a bit bolder in my aims to ignite that unrequited love (or reignite a lost lover!) or even changed my choice of University. Perhaps your life might have turned out differently - better, worse or simply different - but there's no point dwelling on the past, because you made the right choices at the time.

I've learned that the decisions we make and actions we take are based on the information you have at hand at that point in time. The choices we make are, in many cases, totally right - people rarely intentionally make a bad choice, perhaps selecting the best of a bad bunch but hardly ever an obviously terrible idea.

We plan a path ahead for ourselves and create a vision in our minds of what our future will hold. Sometimes we dream about how a different decision may have moved us closer to that vision. But if we stop and think about our vision right now, just wonder what will the world be like in 15 years' time? Do you believe that what you want now will resemble anything like what will be possible in a decade and a half's time?

Strolling through the main shopping area, I walked past the Thomson travel agent - a surprising survivor of the explosion in online retail, which must have put paid to a couple of the old record shops and the army surplus store. It reminded me that it was here I first saw someone using a hands-free mobile phone. I thought they had some kind of mental problem, until I spotted the cumbersome black earpiece protruding from the side of their head.

It reminded me that it was here I first saw someone using a hands-free mobile phone ... 15 years ago, there was no such thing as a smartphone.

Just think about that for a second. 15 years ago, there was no such thing as a smartphone. Few of us even owned a mobile phone - in fact, my Siemens handset was something of a novelty with a three colour screen. Nobody 'vaped'. Gyms, and the 'muscle freak' culture that goes with it, did not exist. A special offer on a beer would have been 'Pound a Pint Night'; now a craft beer for £3 is considered a bargain.

Think about the industries and businesses that have sprung up since then. Smartphones are a multibillion pound business. Fitness First and Virgin Active are household names. If only there had been a 'coding club' to join in the creaking, ancient halls of Whitmore Reans or Randall Lines? Imagine what I might have achieved if I had spent the vast eons of time drinking in the students' union or playing Champ Manager in my room learning how to code. In that time, online megabrands like Ask Jeeves, Napster, AltaVista, MySpace and Boo have been conceived, thrived and met with ignominy whilst making serious cash for thousands of smart people. But this isn't supposed to be some misty-eyed reminiscence about the days before Facebook, when flights still cost a month's wages and coffees were 95% water and came in polystyrene from the side of a burger van...

Have a think about what you wanted to do when you were at uni or were looking at your first job? If your industry hasn't changed in 15 years, it soon will. Is your ideal job from back then still your ideal job now? I had dreams of being an architect, an archaeologist, a policeman, a journalist - each one of them now relies on the kind of computing power unimaginable when you had to book time in the 'Computer Room'. Each one of them is still possible but bears no resemblance to the remit of the roles back in 1998.

If your industry hasn't changed in 15 years, it soon will. Is your ideal job from back then still your ideal job now?

Your dreams and ambitions 5, 10, 15 or even 20 years ago are not the same as they are now - you are not the same person you were. Your entire life and the environment in which you live it has changed. You can only make decisions based on what's happening in the present.

Thinking about what might have been simply makes you depressed. Trying to imagine what the future will hold is unlikely to be anything close to what actually occurs. Living in the present will inevitably focus your decisions and actions but potentially for short-term success.

The moral of this story is that building a plan for three, four, five years is sensible but imaging a better future, especially based on theoretical what-ifs, does nothing more than waste time. Hold on to your vision and be clear about it but remember that time will ensure the world in which it could conceivably exist will change beyond recognition, even if you don't.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page