1. Can you reflect on a decision you’ve made that you later regretted?
When I first entered university as an undergraduate, I was certain that I wanted to go into Psychology. Though I’d had little experience in the field, studying the mind, understanding people’s motivations, and learning about mental illness were all fascinating prospects (when I was very young, I wanted to be a neurosurgeon, but later developed hand tremors, making such work out of the question. Psychology seemed the next-best thing). When I got to university, however, I was struck by the sheer variety of subjects and disciplines, many of which I didn’t even know existed previously. As well, as I went through 2 years of my Psychology major, I found that the field was quite different than I’d assumed. It didn’t hold my attention or interest as much as some of the electives I’d taken, and I ended up spending my third year just floating around, taking a wide array of classes to see what sparked my passion, while still registered as a Psychology major. Eventually, I found a different discipline that asked the same kinds of questions that interested me, but from different perspectives – the Academic Study of Religion, which I ended up pursuing as my major after that. Because I switched majors at the end of my third year, I had to take an additional year to complete my B.A. I regretted the time I felt I’d wasted in pursuing something else, and wished I’d looked more carefully at the variety of disciplines available, rather than going to university as a direct-admission into the Psychology major. If I’d spent my first year floating around, rather than my third, I probably could have completed my degree in the initially-intended time. Once I declared my new major, I had to take on a very heavy course load for years 4 and 5 of my undergrad – I took 5 courses each term, even during the summer, while also working full-time. However, because I genuinely loved what I was doing, I made Dean’s List with highest honors each of those terms and brought my GPA up nearly a whole point (I admittedly hadn’t been doing well in Psychology). Those were two very difficult years, but I learned a lot about myself, the university, and the world during that time. Most importantly, I learned that when I’m truly passionate and invested in something, I will do whatever it takes to realize and reach my goals, and I had tangible evidence to back that up. I’d never worked as hard as I worked those two years, but instead of feeling run-down or exhausted, I felt exhilarated, and found a path that I would end up following for the rest of my academic life.
(A quick note, reader! While the above story may not reflect your experience, particularly if you’re still completing your undergrad, I've intentionally offered a story from a different perspective. I did this because I want you to focus not just on what is said, but how the story is structured – this can be easier to do if you’re working with a somewhat unfamiliar story, something you may not identify with specifically. Recall the discussion of personal questions earlier, note the trajectory of the story here and how it works with those earlier ideas. Now, see if you can do the same with your own personal experience and narrative!)
2. How can one move past, or learn from, such regret?
I think the most important thing to realize is that regret is often a paralyzing emotion. While we certainly all wish we’d done things differently sometimes, dwelling on that wish, rather than focusing on how to build effectively on it to make lasting change in the future, can end up in self-sabotage. Focusing on regret is inherently to focus on something that simply cannot be changed, and if we don’t see any actionable options available to us, we may simply do nothing. This is only going to make things worse, transforming a potential learning moment into an insurmountable hurdle.
3. Did you ever make what seemed like a bad decision, only to later learn that it was still the best decision at the time? Reflect on this.
In retrospect and with the benefit of hindsight, the decision noted above, to throw myself into a major I didn’t truly understand, not taking the time to really research what that field entailed and determine whether it matched my own interests and ambitions, was not as disastrous a decision as it seemed at the time. While I didn’t end up sticking with Psychology, I still learned a lot in the two years I pursued it actively (and the half-year or so that I floated, still taking one or two courses). I realized how interested I am in how people think – their ideologies, their influences, the role of social context for ideas and resulting behaviors, etc. In a way, it was this realization that led me to my eventual major; to study religions is to study precisely those issues of ideology, influence, and social context, via motivation, myth-making, tradition, textual lenses, authority, belief, etc. As well, at the graduate level, I took several courses that looked at the intersection of Psychology and Religion, where my early coursework helped inform my analysis in ways not accessible to peers who had studied other things. I eventually found myself precisely where I’d wanted to go, even though I didn’t actually know where that was when the journey began. At the time, it felt like a disaster. Now, however, I see it as more of a scenic detour with value of its own.
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