The post that responds to Saving Ninja’s latest thought experiment – what would you do differently if you could live your life again?
I had been planning to do a post at some point about financial mistakes and regrets, so when I saw Saving Ninja’s latest Thought Experiment was about what you would do differently if you could live your life again, it seemed the ideal opportunity.
The scenario is as follows:
The year is 2030, you’ve just spent your life savings on purchasing a ticket to ‘reset’ yourlife. You’ve gone back in time to your first day of school. You have the chancet to live your life again. You have all of your current memories. What would you do differently?
Warning: this post ended up being way longer than I planned (it was quite a cathartic experience) and is therefore probably crushingly dull to anyone but me.
I should preface all this by saying I think that if this scenario were actually possible it would be a hellish prospect. Even the seemingly innocuous changes I’d make (e.g. not getting horribly drunk on a certain night) could have Butterfly Effect-esque results that dramatically affect my life. And as for the more significant decisions as to university choice and career, these would mean many of the people in my life now would never come to be in it.
By paying for that “reset” ticket you are essentially saying F.U. to many of the people you love in your life. So my actual answer to the Thought Experiment is that I’d never have bought the ticket in the first place. But that makes for a pretty short blog post, so let’s just proceed on the basis that I’m a sociopath who doesn’t care about any of the personal relationships I’ve formed over the years.
I decided to set myself some rules about what I can and can’t do when I’m in reset mode. Without imposing any limits I’d end up as a billionaire, superhuman genius. That might make for a more fun read, but I wanted to keep the post vaguely on the financial independence track.
Rules are as follows:
I can only make changes that affect my own life: one of biggest problems you’d have if you knew everything that was going to happen in the world for the next few decades would be the desire to intervene in major world events or traumas: call in a security alert to United Airlines on 11 September 2001, pull the fire alarm at Grenfell half an hour before the fire actually started, make sure the police are there to intervene in any of the countless violent crimes that happen every day of the year. Your task would very quickly get overwhelming, dark and depressing. It would consume you with guilt for all the people you didn’t save. So to get rid of that moral dilemma I’m going to assume I can only change things that affect my own life and, in consequence, those immediately around me.
I can’t use my knowledge to win the lottery: or any other “gambling when you know the outcome” approaches. In practice, I’d probably buy a winning lottery ticket as soon as I turned 16 and live the rest of my life in glorious luxury. But that wouldn’t lead to a very soul-searching post, so using my knowledge for immediate financial gain is out.
No using my adult brain to be an abnormally freakish child genius: I always thought it would be fun to go back into the body of your 5 year-old self on the first day of school, knowing what you know now and wowing everyone you meet with your brilliant mind. In the Thought Experiment scenario it would be difficult to not come across as weirdly precocious. I don’t remember how much I knew at age 5 or what vocabulary I used, so I’d inevitably slip up (“Thatcher’s Right to Buy policies are going to have lasting repercussions on affordable housing in this country” I’d idly say to my parents one day over dinner). I’d certainly use my advanced brain to do well in life but I would try and hold back enough to avoid being experimented on by behavioural psychologists.
Note: it occurs to me another reason it would be hell being stuck in a child’s body with all your memories, is because you’ve presumably got adult emotions and tastes from all those years of development in your alternative life. I’d want to be enjoying a glass of wine in front of some good quality grown-up television. Instead you only get to drink juice and watch children’s TV. And you will obviously not want to form romantic relationships for at least a couple of decades until everyone else your physical age starts to catch up to your mental age. The same probably applies to friendships too. God this Thought Experiment is fraught with difficulty!
So here goes with the phases of my life:
I was a child who gave up hobbies easily. Most of these I don’t regret but I do slightly regret not practising harder at the piano. I don’t have any particular talents so it would be good to have a few more strings to my bow other than just “reasonably intelligent”. However, the reason I never practised the piano was simply because I didn’t enjoy it. In fact, I HATED having lessons. Would pushing myself to pursue a hobby I don’t actually like, just so in the future I can maybe show off my piano-playing skills at parties make me happy? Arguably if I had my time again I should be quitting piano lessons sooner rather than continuing with them because I thought it would please my parents.
One thing I would do – and this is stealing one from SavingNinja’s post – is insist on having language lessons from an early age (either French or Spanish). The amount of times I’ve felt like an ignorant English-speaking-only moron is embarrassing.
In those early teen years I don’t think I’d make any tangible changes to my actions. However, having the brain of a jaded 30-something I would revel in not giving a shit about being popular. I’d stand up to people being mean to me and even stand up to authority. I always remember the one and only time I got yelled at by a teacher (which was for something I didn’t even do). At the time I just cried; if I had my time again I’d just storm out of the classroom, safe in the knowledge that that action isn’t going to ruin my life chances.
As to the later teen years, especially choosing what universities to apply to, here is where my choices might become more significant. I feel like I was never really pushed at school. My parents always had an “as long as you do your best we’re proud of you” attitude, which I’m grateful for. But my teachers did sort of neglect me. Whereas my friends were all hauled in for a chat if they tried to sign up to do “soft” A-levels, or declined to apply to Oxbridge, no-one did that for me. Therefore, whilst I’ve always done just fine academically (better than fine, really) I feel I could have done better. I especially wonder how many more doors would have been opened if I’d gone to Oxford or Cambridge.
But maybe I’d have hated Oxbridge. I have a pretty wide lazy streak so I might have ended up ruining my university years. Speaking of which…
Of course, if I’d gone to a different university then my life is already on a completely different track so I can’t exactly point to stuff that happened and say I’d change it, as it’s already not going to happen. But let’s assume that I do go to the same university that I actually went to.
I didn’t really enjoy university until the third year. In the first year I hadn’t found a friendship group I really fit with, and I spent the second year obsessing over a boy who I don’t give a second thought about these days. So I’d try and accelerate the good times by seeking out the people I ultimately became good friends with, and with my current brain I’d obviously not care one jot about the boy.
The other thing I’d change is my drinking. I know my limits now (most of the time). The last time I was slumped-in-a-gutter drunk was when I was 19 or 20. And the last time I got drunk to the point of really embarrassing myself was probably about 7 years ago. I’m sure as hell not keen to relive those moments.
Academically, I got a high 2:1, but on paper that’s no different to getting 60%, so I’d work just a bit harder every day over the course of the three years, which would (hopefully) cumulatively get me the extra couple of percent I’d have needed for a First. That’s always been a badge of pride that I’ve been missing.
Here’s where my main financial regret kicks in. After university, like a lot of people, I didn’t know what to do so I fannied around in badly paid jobs for around 4 years before re-training as a lawyer. Not only were they badly paid but I was also miserable in them. Despite not being a big spender I barely saved anything as my salary just didn’t allow for it (at least, not without living a kind of parsimonious existence that would have made me miserable).
So I’d just apply for legal training contracts straight from university (I should get an offer with a qualified lawyer’s brain in my head). Knowing about the FI movement since age 5 I’d have stashed all my savings away in a stocks and shares ISA. I’d also be 4 years earlier getting on the ol’ property ladder. The flat I’m trying to buy now would have been about 30% cheaper 4 years ago. Becoming a lawyer straight away wouldn’t just have knocked 4 years from my retirement age. With compounding gains and a much smaller mortgage I’d be looking at knocking some serious time off of my working life.
But as I said at the beginning, any of these changes could prove to be seriously unwise and cause my life to unravel. We are the sum of all of our experiences and going through life constantly trying to engineer things to be a certain way would probably just leave you a neurotic shell.