Time for a slight reprieve from the usual humdrum (at least of 10 days) of this somewhat self-indulgent countdown for an even more self-indulgent post about…
To me, a crucial part of regret is losing an opportunity that you actually have. The more you have to lose, the greater the fall is in the end, but you can’t regret something you don’t have or didn’t have a chance of attaining. For example, I can’t say that I regret not being a black belt because I never had that opportunity to begin with. On the other hand, I can say that I regret not starting BJJ earlier (especially living in the hotbed called Southern California). I can’t say that I regret not being with Helena Bonham Carter because again, the opportunity isn’t there (sigh). Plus, she is old enough to be my mother (but still a hottie pants).
As much as I hated it as a young Angry Hedgehog growing up, academics were and are an inescapable part of my being. (Apparently, my top insult to douches/BMW drivers is “But…but…I’m still smarter than you!”) Essentially, I was raised just to be a brain (but minus megalomaniac Andross tendencies) and serial standardized test killer. I started doing math problems from a math workbook from Taiwan when I was 3. I read about integral and differential calculus when I was in 4th grade. I used to cry when I got second place in math contests, especially to that commie Leonid Rozkin. I went to State for the Geography Bee, which fortunately allowed the nickname Geo-Whiz to supplant Pimple-Face. I started taking SATs in 7th grade, and I still remember all my scores. 1150 in seventh, 1250 in eighth, 1460 in ninth. 234 on the PSAT, National Merit Scholarship winner. 2250 on the actual SAT (which was a major point of consternation). 5 on every AP except Physucks. 790 SAT Math 2C in 9th grade, 780 SAT Biology. I was encouraged to listen to only opera, classical, and gospel music and eat fish because it would make me smarter. In the same way that people were essentially identified at a young age as prodigies in sports and raised to be superstars, I was bred to be an SAT assassin.
As for academic pedigree, my parents worked hard to ensure I had almost every conceivable opportunity and advantage available. I went to Challenger School, a private K-8 academy where even the bullies were nerds and B’s meant social ostracism. Bellarmine College Preparatory followed, a private, all boys, Jesuit prep school located in the heart of the Silicon Valley. To call it a small college with a sprawling campus, replete with different academic buildings, black box theatres, fields for each sport that needed one, computer laboratories full of video-editing enabled Mac computers, would suffice as well. When college application season came around, I had already survived my fair share of entrance exams, personal statements and an army of practice and real standardized exams. Elitism on, but at the time, I thought everybody had intensive AP and SAT supplementary classes, or personal statement writing workshops, because who didn’t, right?
The previous two rather self-masturbatory posts were exxxposition to provide context to what I call my life right now. If regret truly is as simple as an opportunity not taken, then I certainly have had more than my fair share of that. For someone who was trained for almost two decades for the sole purpose of attending Harvard, Yale, or Princeton, my parents must have been disappointed to find out that I was going to UCLA, given also Bellarmine’s reputation as an Ivy League feeder (at least I was in the 96% that attended a four year institution). By no means am I denigrating the opportunities and education that I received at UCLA, especially because it allowed me to discover and blossom two of the loves of my life in improv and jiu-jitsu and meet the one love in my life, but sometimes, I can’t avoid the sickening feeling that I didn’t maximize the potential of my upbringing. Even a half decade after the fact, I can’t pry myself away from trolling college application websites that offer suggestions of schools for students to apply to based on their numerical statistics (SAT/GPA), looking for some meaningless validation from a faceless and nameless person. It’s easy to push aside graduating magna cum laude and being a Phi Bete to look backwards at the crossroads of an 18 year old Angry Hedgehog’s life and start wondering where I would be if I had gone to Berkeley instead. If I had gone to Claremont McKenna, where I essentially broke my ED contract and turned down my National Merit Scholarship. If I had actually applied to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Duke, Columbia, Dartmouth, because the online prognosticators said I had a good chance of getting in.
Fear is the reason that I haven’t taken those opportunities. Fear of spoiling my academic record. Fear of ruining my perfect academic acceptance rate. Fear that there is somebody, anybody out there doesn’t think that I’m smart. And it is that same fear that leads me to where I am now, in 2012, on the verge of going to a top 14 law school. Excited, but still looking back poignantly at the Angry Hedgehog of 2009 who was too afraid to retake the LSAT because he was afraid he would get lower than 170, the Angry Hedgehog of 2010 who was too afraid to apply to Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Michigan, and Penn because he couldn’t bear the rejection, the Angry Hedgehog of 2011 who was too afraid to appeal his rejection to Berkeley because he was so crushed by his dream school.
Sadly, for all the thinking I’ve done, those distant memories seem to just vanish into some Great Pit of Carkoon. And I do catch myself falling into inevitable daydreams about what could have been, grasping at opportunities long gone, but the moment my fingers wrap around them, they disappear as well.