Thought Experiment: No Regrets

Today for the first time I’m taking part in one of SavingNinja’s thought experiments. At the start of each month he posts a question, and you have to write a stream-of-consciousness post in response. The question this month is “The year is 2030, you’ve just spent your life savings on purchasing a ticket to ‘reset’ your life. You’ve gone back in time to your first-day of school. You have a chance to live your life again. You have all of your current memories. What would you do differently?”. Ready? Here goes:

I try not to have regrets. Where I am today is a result of thousands upon thousands of decisions – big and small – that I’ve made over the course of my life. If I’d taken a different path at any one of the numerous crossroads I’ve stood at, my life today could be vastly different. But I don’t regret the choices I didn’t make, the lives I didn’t live. On the whole, any sources of unhappiness in my current life are either temporary, relatively insignificant, or not down to major life decisions I made somewhere further back on my path. So let’s look at some of the more major crossroads I’ve found myself at over the years and how my life would have changed if I’d made different decisions.

Childhood

While I was a kid at school I basically didn’t really have a say about major things. My parents decided where we lived, what school I went to, how much pocket money I got etc. I had a basically happy childhood and I don’t have any regrets about it. I don’t think anything I could have done differently back then would have led to my life now being dramatically different.

Which University?

The first time I had the power to make a big life-changing decision was when I left school and had to decide what university to go to and what to study. (I didn’t really have the option not to go to university – everyone around me was going, and it was expected that I’d go too. I never questioned that.) I’ve always had a thing for Ireland and I found an interesting course at Trinity College Dublin. That was my first choice university.

I applied to Edinburgh and St Andrews too as backups, although when I found out that Prince William would be starting at St Andrews at the same time, that university quickly lost its appeal. (Loads of girls with ambitions to marry him were applying there and I didn’t want people to think that I only wanted to go there because of him. I also didn’t want to live in a place with constant paparazzi and media attention.)

I was accepted at all three universities, but differences between the Scottish and Irish systems meant that the deadline for accepting a place at Edinburgh was before the date I got my acceptance letter from Trinity. So I accepted the place at Edinburgh.

I don’t regret that decision, but part of me sometimes wonders how my life would have been if I’d gone to study in Dublin. Obviously I can’t possibly know anything for certain. I’m sure I’d have had a nice enough life, with nice enough friends and I’d probably have found a nice Irish guy with a sexy accent and an unpronounceable name. Who knows? No point dwelling on it really.

Which Course?

I originally applied to study EU Studies with French and German, but then I decided that French and German was a pretty boring combination. So I ditched French and decided to pick a more “exotic” language from the list of options. I ended up picking Danish. Yes, Danish.

It was a pretty fun language to study but it’s been of basically no use to me. I realized in my final year at uni that I didn’t feel any strong connection to Denmark or Danish culture and that since all Danish people speak fluent English there wasn’t much point in learning Danish other than as a curiosity. I could still have learned Danish as a hobby on the side while concentrating my uni efforts on something more useful. What would that more useful thing have been? No idea. Some kind of biology thingy? Archaeology? Again, no point in dwelling on it because it’s in the past.

How Studying Danish Helped Me Become FI

There’s a pretty major reason I don’t regret studying Danish though. My Danish professor told me about an international student conference in Denmark run by some people he knew. I went to that conference, had a fantastic time and ended up on their mailing list. A few years later I got an e-mail about another conference they were organizing. It looked interesting so I applied, and it turned out that that was where I ended up meeting Mr W.

So if I hadn’t studied Danish I may have ended up with a more marketable skillset, but I wouldn’t have met Mr W, who has enriched my life in so many ways. Including being the first one of us to find the FI movement.

So in turn if I hadn’t studied Danish, not only would I not have met Mr W, I probably wouldn’t have found out about FI, worked towards it, reached it, started a blog, organized the FIWE meetups, helped start FIREhub, and got to know all the interesting, inspiring and fun people in the FI community. So maybe it’s better after all that I studied Danish. Skol!

Which Country?

I met Mr W in the summer just after I finished uni. I had this idea that I’d spend a year in Germany or Denmark working any job I could find and improving my language skills and then go back to Edinburgh to do a masters in translation. While I was at the conference meeting Mr W, I had an interview for an internship in Germany, and I got the job.

Completely by chance, it turned out that Mr W was going to be moving to Germany at the end of the summer as well to do the first year of his masters. We only lived 150km away from each other, so we decided to try having a long-distance relationship and commuting at weekends. It worked out pretty well!

My original three-month contract kept getting extended, and eventually I ditched the idea of going back to Edinburgh for a masters. I kind of fell into a new job in Germany, and then another new job in Germany. All in all we stayed for 12 years.

Career

I started out quite passionate about translation, but over the years I became disillusioned with the corporate environment. I couldn’t see a way out so I just kept plodding on. Pretty much the only major thing I’d go back and change about my life knowing what I know now is my career.

Possibly after my initial job finished, or maybe even after the second one, I’d have taken a different direction. Again, I’m not sure exactly what I’d have done instead. I may have retrained, or moved sideways within the huge software company I translated for. After getting a few years’ experience under my belt I may even have gone freelance, knowing what I know now about relative hourly rates. Going freelance used to seem scary because you have to go out and find clients, and you have to do “lots of complicated tax stuff”. Now I know that neither of those things is all that scary and the potential rewards far outweigh any of the downsides.

Family Life

I’m pretty happy with our family setup. I don’t regret having children, having them very close together in age so they can grow up together, or stopping at two! If I had my time again I may possibly have had the children earlier by a couple of years, but that’s not a major regret in my life.

The Path to FI

Becoming financially literate was a steep learning curve, and I’m learning new things all the time. I don’t regret anything I’ve done along the path to FI, but knowing what I know now I’d have started sooner, especially with the ETFs.

No Regrets

So all-in-all, I have no major regrets so far. I prefer to look forward to the road ahead, and I’m curious to see what crossroads I find myself at in the future. There’s no point in dwelling on the past because you can’t change it. But the future holds endless possibilities. Go out and make the most of it!

Edit: I’ve thought of another thing I’d do differently! Mr W and I got married at a zoo. If I had my time again I’d have made sure we took far more comedy wedding pictures with the animals!


Here are what the other participants in the thought experiment had to say: