It started with a question: “If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
It was a calm moment in my usually hectic day when the topic came up, and it was asked by my mother, someone who’s seen all of the giant fuck-ups that I’ve made throughout my days. My father was there too, and his head turned to look my way as I answered.
What I said in response was true. But now, giving it a bit more thought, I’ve started to reconsider what I said and how I would really approach the problem. Let’s say it was 1994, and I could travel back in time to give my younger self advice. What would I tell myself to do?
I’d start by finishing college. I attended school — quite a few of them, in fact — but I never graduated from college. It’s something I’m not quite proud of, and the thing is I have absolutely no excuse other than being excessively lazy.
Sure, other things did come up. There was a personal matter that distracted me for a bit, and the lack of focus also pulled me in a different direction than I previously intended. I was going to school, I just didn’t really know why. That was ultimately my downfall.
I started off at the University of Arizona as an art major because I wanted to draw comics. But what I didn’t realize then was why I wanted to do that. I had a modicum amount of talent; enough to get by, but I wasn’t going to be the next Jim Lee by any means. What I’d learn years later is that I loved comics because of the art, yes — but it was the stories that really kept me engaged. I wanted to work in comics because I wanted to tell stories. It makes so much more sense in retrospect than it did back then.
After I dumped my art major, I debated communications because I’m usually pretty OK in front of a crowd. I seemed to excel in those classes, and focused my efforts on that for a bit. But it never really stuck, so I continued to languish through the years, never accomplishing anything other than pissing away my parent’s money. It’s something I regret on many levels today.
Were I to do it over, I would start with focusing on english and journalism as majors and minors, or maybe a double major. I would want the english for the extra structure it would give me today[^fn-footnote_hyphenate], as well as the additional reading I would have done through my studies. I haven’t done that as much as I’d like to, and even though I read brilliant writers every day, I’d still like to read more. As for the journalism part, that’s more for a focus on magazines and print than anything, not so much for working at a newspaper.
When I said this all to my parents, my mother responded, “So you’d have a double major in being broke?”
Had I graduated in 1998 (as was the plan), I would’ve been in a much different environment. Magazines were doing well, print media was prospering and the Internet wasn’t much of a threat — yet. We had yet to see the dot-com bubble burst and everything go to shit. There was potential.
But more importantly, it would’ve gotten me a head start with my writing, whether it was fiction, magazine work or whatever, I would have had a great foundation for the future. And who knows, today I might have a book or two out there.
Other than college, I think my timing was just about as good as it ever could be. Were I to have started freelancing just a year earlier — prior to my job at 944 — I would’ve failed out. The automotive magazines wouldn’t have been able to keep up with my needs, and I would’ve gone back to the workforce as a failed freelancer. If I hadn’t had the pressure of an unemployed wife and a growing family to support, I don’t think I would’ve put as much effort forth as needed to succeed. Had I never been the editor of some of those magazines, I wouldn’t have been able to gain the experience and put that on my resume.
I do regret how I spent my 20s. But as for doing it all over again, I’m ultimately in the position that I am today because of the mistakes I made in the past. I’m not proud of them, but without those learning experiences, I might be a much different person than I am now.
Sure, I could be a lot nicer as a result. But fuck that.