taking chances

Exit 76. I can’t keep carrying around all that regret.

In the past, I’ve always found those who live by a philosophy that involves doing what you want and not having regrets profoundly annoying.  Too many people get themselves into trouble with short-sighted bad decisions, the kind of decisions that are likely to leave you injured, broke, infected, or incarcerated.  That kind of life, act now and screw the consequences, is not for me, at least I always thought.

However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that the other extreme is no way to live either.  I’ve spent too much of my life overthinking things to death and coming up with ways to sabotage myself, to convince myself that something is a bad idea without even trying it.  And now, I’m ten short months away from turning 40 and full of regrets over things I haven’t done in the past.  My past is littered with too many events I didn’t attend that won’t happen again, experiences I passed on that don’t exist anymore, and girls I didn’t ask out who are married now.

How did I turn out like this?  A lot of reasons, probably.  I’ve seen a lot of lives ruined by immature decisions that weren’t thought out well, and I’ve always made it a point that I don’t want to turn out like that.  I’ve noticed some aspects of my personality where I could see myself as the type of individual who could easily fall into some of those traps, so I’ve made a point of staying as far away from anything that might lead to such a mistake.  (Alcoholism, for example.  I’ve never had a drink in my life, because I see myself as the type who would be easily susceptible to abusing alcohol.)  As a child, I feel like whenever I was encouraged to try new things, it was someone else encouraging me to try something that they thought I might enjoy, which isn’t bad in and of itself, but it feels like new ideas that came from myself were often discouraged.  In young adulthood, I came of age spiritually in the late 1990s, when the big fad among Christian youth and college groups was that dating was bad, spending time alone with the opposite sex was inappropriate, and breaking up with someone was generally portrayed as something so painful that it should be avoided at all costs.

But the important thing is to understand where to go from here.  There has to be something in between.  I’m not going to go get drunk in Mexico and hook up with prostitutes, #YOLO.  But at the same time, sitting here refusing to try something because it might go wrong, it might cost too much, I might be disappointed, that leaves me just as disappointed, if not worse, as if things had gone wrong.  I can’t keep carrying around all that regret.  And I might finally be changing.  I’ve done several things in the last month that I thought for a long time might be bad ideas, but so far I’m doing fine.  I wish it hadn’t taken me 39 years to figure this out, but there’s nothing I can do about that now.

Exit 53. Go big or go home.

In 1998, during my last finals week as an undergraduate at UC Davis, I wrote a board game.  I always seem to get my best creative ideas when I have tons of other work to do.  Go figure.  The game has been through several major and minor revisions over the years.  Every spring since 2009, my friends and I have had a tournament to determine the annual champion of this game.  The fact that I wrote the game does not give me a major advantage in the tournament.  The game is not completely based on luck over strategy, but enough of the game depends on dice rolls and card draws that even the most strategic player is not guaranteed a win, and even the n00biest n00b can win sometimes.  I won the first two tournaments, in 2009 and 2010, and going into last night’s tournament, I had not won since.  This is not a big event; so far there have been between 6 and 9 people participating every year, and three of us have participated all seven years.  I am the only remaining player who has advanced to the final round every year.  (The explanations in the next few paragraphs seem kind of vague, but I’m writing this for an audience not familiar with the game, in a way that does not require readers to become familiar with the game.  Considering that there are probably only a hundred or so people who have ever played this game, in its 16-year history, I think it’s safe to assume most people reading this are not familiar with the game.)

In the tournament, everyone plays three full games against different combinations of opponents.  You get points based on whether you finished first, second, third, or fourth in your game, as well as bonus points for certain achievements that could happen in the game.  The scores are added up, and the four people who have the highest scores play a final game to determine the winner.  The last few years, I have been playing rather conservatively, but last night I decided to take a chance more often than usual.  At the end of the second game, the standings were very close; no one was dominating, and only a few points separated first place from seventh, so every point was going to matter in the third game.  I took a big gamble at one point in the next game, and after debating if I should do it, I said, “Go big or go home.”  My gamble had a 50-50 chance of succeeding, and it would have given me a bonus point in the standings, and if it did not succeed (which it didn’t), it probably would have only put me two or three turns behind where I would have been otherwise.  The only way my plan could go horribly wrong is if I rolled a 1 on the next turn, which would have taken me to a space where I draw an Encounter card.  These are kind of like Chance and Community Chest in Monopoly; some are good, some are bad, and some take you elsewhere on the board, which could be good or bad depending on your situation in the game.  So even if I did roll a 1, it wouldn’t have put me that much farther behind unless I got a card that took me somewhere far away on the board.  That would have been very bad.  But I didn’t have to worry about that unless I rolled a 1, and that such a card happened to be on top of the deck.  Well, guess what happened.  I rolled a 1, and I got a card that took me to the opposite side of the board, so it took another 10 turns or so to get back to where I was and continue what I needed to do to finish the game.  I ended up finishing third in that game.

I had done well enough in the first two games that a third place finish in game 3 was enough to qualify for the final round.  I was set up to take an early lead when another player stole a card from me that I would have needed to follow through with my plan to take this early lead.  (When I say stole, this is part of the game; there is a way in the game that you can take things from other players.  He did not cheat.)  When he stole the card, I told him, “Enjoy being the champion this year.”  But thanks to a few fortunate dice rolls, I ended up not too far behind where I would have been, and I did eventually jump out to a lead.  But this put a target on my back, and I ended up spending another 10 turns or so stuck behind a trap set by the same player who had stolen my card.  I would not have escaped except that circumstances eventually changed to the point where it became advantageous to another player to let me out of that trap.  At the end, it was a race to the finish, and I eventually won.

There are so many life lessons involved in this experience.  Sometimes you have to take chances.  Playing conservatively doesn’t work with many things.  Taking chances doesn’t always work either, but at least there is the satisfaction of knowing you did everything you could.  And sometimes, even when your plan doesn’t work, even when you take a chance and it fails miserably, things could still turn out just fine in the end.  So don’t give up, and don’t be afraid to take a chance.  That’s what I’m going to keep telling myself.