Privilege Blog

Personal Scree, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:50am

I was talking to my son this week, about opportunities. We also talked about Reggie Darling’s jaunt through Antiques Week, music, and this article about snow and Eskimos. But Opportunity stuck with me.

Defined here as Something You Are Offered Which Will Give You More Prizes Than Usual, For Less Work Than You Expect. A leg up.

I’ve passed on a few opportunities in my life. Some I’ve never forgotten. If so, so what? What use are these memories? Life is long, choices many, am I just an older lady looking for purchase on the history I traverse in a clatter of personal scree?

Well, that’s overly dramatic, but I do love the word scree. Caused by physical or chemical weathering indeed. I hold out hope that we’ll find a pattern. A lesson. Let us deconstruct, starting with the particular. What did I turn down and why?

A Publisher Paying Attention To My Future Book

In my senior year of college, a beloved roommate and her mother took me to lunch with a family friend on the board of the publishing company Farrar, Strauss, Giroux. Carried away by a Mardi Gras parade of young intellect, I went on and on about my theories of consciousness. The words binary, 1’s and 0’s, the motion between On and Off, all might have been mentioned. I explained I had a book in mind. He said to send it to him, when finished But. I never wrote it because I did not believe in my talent. Opportunity Assessed As Not Real Due To Imposter Syndrome.

Many Free Fancy Dinners In New York

After college, and after a slightly random year in London, I moved to Manhattan. 1979-1984 that was, go-go years if the world has ever seen them. Did I indulge? Hardly. I went dancing all of once. I dated rarely. Half a decade as a pretty young thing – a pretty young thing with money, at that –  and I took absolutely no advantage. No dates with driven investment bankers, no photos from society balls, no notoriety to regret as I aged and faded. Silly, perhaps, but I do think back and wonder why I didn’t enjoy my powers. Opportunity Unrecognized Altogether Due To Fear Of Losing My Nascent Identity To Strong-Jawed Men And Crowds.

Wedding In Rajasthan, 1982

On my trip to India, I was invited to the wedding of a railway porter’s daughter, in Rajasthan. I said no. I had a schedule to keep, after all. Opportunity Declined Due To Phantom Plan Adherence.

Several Millions Of Dollars

When my daughter was very young, some friends of my sister started a company. They were wonderful, smart, alternative, focused guys with a plan. Why didn’t I come to work for them, they wondered? Ah, but I had a young child, and wasn’t comfortable with anything besides part-time work at that point. Opportunity Declined Due To Heart Not In The Game.

Somehow, ever since, I’ve taken the opportunities that present. Somehow or other I learned to say yes, for better or worse.


I turned great things down in my youth because:

  1. I didn’t believe in myself
  2. I didn’t know what was possible
  3. I invented phantom plans and goals to address issues 1 and 3


I turned down those millions, on the other hand, for good reason. The founders made something like $25M when they went public, approximately 10 years later. But the time I invested with my little ones built a foundation of parenting confidence that makes me happy to this day.

I return to the space time-intensive motherhood constructed in my heart, all the time.

You know, the confidence from those days extends even  beyond parenting. Motherhood was the first time in my life I ever came up against my doubts, screwed my courage to the sticking point, improved at the task, and what’s more, believed in my improvement.

I always get mad when people say things like, “Follow your heart and all will be well.” There’s so much more to it. You have to know your heart, follow it, and pay attention to everything on the chosen path. But I could say, looking back, that if you choose resolutely not to follow your heart, especially out of ignorance and fear, all will not be well.

Sure, nobody is ever going to offer to pay attention to the book 21-year Lisa wanted to write, and 56-year old Lisa doesn’t have those neurons any more. Nobody is ever going to squire me to dinner as a trophy of young womanhood. I doubt I’ll be attending a wedding in Rajasthan any time soon, and 1982 is forever gone. Luckily life and fortune don’t give up on us without a fight.

The most important thing is to be prepared for opportunity. Because while we don’t control when she knocks, if you will accept my High WASP apologies for a facile metaphor, we do control how to answer the damn door.

Have a wonderful weekend.

54 Responses

  1. Oh, you struck a chord with me. The art curator who said, “keep in touch.” I thought she was just being polite. No, she wanted to give me a show.

    To be honest, I do think your time was well spent being a parent. I wouldn’t mind the money, but when it’s all said and done…

    I’m trying to say yes, today and keep my palm open as opposed to closed to opportunities. It’s something I have had to learn, but I’m trying.

  2. I wish I had read this 20 years ago… your words echo mine, practically to a T – The opportunities I passed, and there were so very many, because I had a lack of self esteem combined with a terrible fear of failure. During my 30s when I became a mother 3 times, I suddenly had the confidence needed to not only succeed but shoot for the stars, then a bad marriage questioned all that. Now at 40something I struggle to get that back to finally take the chances and grab at the opportunities that are coming my way. I still struggle but I push myself. The thing with opportunity is that it never really runs out and that it’s always there for us but we have to be ready and confident to travel with it!

  3. Hmmmmm, interesting. I get a bit stuck on the relationship between opportunities and choices and consequences. . . and on the difference made by my having had my first child at 23. And on the role of privilege . . . With you, though, in acknowledging the richness of my life from this perspective and that one of the best opportunities I had/made was time with my children as they grew. (A bit troubled by belabouring this, though, as a feminist with three daughters, one of whom has been working full-time in a demanding professional position since my granddaughter was one — and that seems to be great for both daughter and granddaughter.)

    1. I think the decision on what to do about children is personal. For some, staying home builds confidence. For some, it’s the wrong choice. I hope to recognize my own history without negating anyone else’s.

  4. I’ve made some choices that I have second guessed. The biggest one was to be a stay at home mom/wife for most years and not have a career. Even with the regrets I have, I still understand why I made the choice(s) that I made. I didn’t make a mistake, just chose a different path. My world would be different if I had chosen the career path, but it would not be world I have now–which is pretty wonderful. So–who knows?

    Like you Lisa, I didn’t realize what charms I had as a very young woman and how I could have used those charms. Looking back, this is one thing I do NOT regret. I was serious, studious, and wanting to avoid any chance that some man would value me for youth and beauty and not brains and kindness.

  5. Excellent post. At 56, I have had to start a conscious plan to stop with the regrets about missed opportunities. Up and onward and I’m keeping ‘yes’ at the ready.

  6. Great post. This topic reminds me of the lines in the Pogues song, ‘I could have been some one’…’well so could anyone!’.
    I think time spend regreting opportunities missed always focuses on the best outcome having happened. Such as, we write the book, it’s a best seller. Not we write the book it’s a flop, or we find we spend years trying to write the book and don’t or can’t, and miss other opportunites along the way.
    I think the 56 year old Lisa would write a far more interesting book!

    And hey, don’t rule out a wedding in India yet!

  7. I think your greatest ascension to wisdom was developing your sense of humor as well as a sense of balance.

    “Opportunity Assessed As Not Real Due To Impostor Syndrome.”
    That’s my new favorite line of yours.
    –Road to Parnassus

  8. I was given a chance to go to Mumbai to sing for a very well known music director. All I had to do was pick up the phone and say “Ok aunty, let’s go.” I was scared and didn’t.

    A few months later, said music director had released another soundtrack. I was back in the US. My boyfriend at the time noted that I was singing the song better than the female vocalist and said “See? That could have been you.”

    But if was me, I wouldn’t have been sitting there with him in that car in Louisiana now, would I have? And I suppose it follows we would have not gotten married four years later either.

    I don’t think too much about missed opportunities; it’s impossible to know what might have happened. “What if” is a useless exercise. There’s just too many variables. I do know what good *has* happened from the choices I *did* make (or refrained from making) and that is ok with me.

    Also, my personal rule of thumb when deciding to do something: I ask myself, “will I likely regret NOT doing this?” If the answer’s yes, I jump in.

  9. It interesting, you have some regrets about missed opportunities, but looking back on my own life jumping in and going for every single one that presented itself, I regret all of the mistakes. It’s been quite an adventure though, and I guess I will have wonderful stories to tell my grandchildren.

  10. Very thought provoking post. I think I would rather not go there. We all get to live with the choices we make and there is no telling were the road not taken would have led.

    You could /should write a book today. Now you have real life experience; not to mention your wonderful writing skills.

  11. I don’t believe there is one of us of mid-century lineage, that doesn’t feel that numerous opportunies were not grasped and therefore regretted at some level for the reasons you mentioned during more youthful times. For myself, fear is a great obstacle now. If I didn’t do it then, what makes me feel I can fake my way through it now with the competition of vim and vigor? It does play with the mind and perceptions. If you’ve got a great bag or a pair of shoes that can work against that…… :)

    1. I guess it is something for one’s 50s. I think you can do it now because you know a lot more than you did then.

  12. We seem to be channeling related themes today. A kind reader (Louise) was good enough to suggest I pop over here.

    Our approaches to where we are (and aren’t), a bit different. Our lives, surely very different. And ironically, I said yes, and yes, and yes – to the opportunities that presented and those I shaped with years of work. Yes to huge risks, yes to opportunities for travel, yes to loving, yes to believing – at least – believing enough for some of those yeses, if not the most important one.

    There’s so much we don’t control. Alternate paths that we make the best of and others that deliver unexpected joys – like motherhood.

    Ultimately, we’re still lived to face ourselves. And keep trying to find the yes – and open other damn doors if ours aren’t opening.

    But it does grow more difficult.

    1. Thanks for the visit. I will take a look at your post – always good to see like minds on similar topics.

  13. This post is somewhat foreign to me only because I’m an Aries. Always one to say yes vs no, at opportunities. It does however bring valuable perspective on which to ponder.

  14. We regret, or at least I do, the stuff we didn’t do, more than the stuff we did. I wish I’d stayed even later at the ball.

  15. The only regret I have is my own foolishness at different points in life, but I’m very happy with the carreer choices I’ve made, just wish I would have paid attention earlier to what my true calling was…but I truly believe things happen for a reason, and raising your children over money was probably one of the wisest decisions you could havwe made, and your kids are so blessed for it now…and you ended up having a few wonderful careers to boot anyway (and this blog of course!).
    I bet your wiser neurons could produce a marvelous book at this stage in life…time is probably more of an issue now though…but it could be done.
    You always give us so much to ponder and think upon Lisa…you keep our neurons alive and active, thank you!!
    xo J~

    PS. And thanks so much for sharing your blogging blueprint, it really was helpful…and if I don’t implement at least a fraction of it, I’ll be regretful beyond belief! ;)

  16. I haven’t paused and thought about missed opportunities…too busy living in the now.
    Your opportunity to make millions vs. motherhood is exactly what i would have chosen and no regrets! I would have regretted missing out on so many moments that still flash through my memory bank and startle me with their power.

  17. Excellent, and very thoughtful,post, Lisa. I’ve come to the point of making peace with my past – it is what it is, rather than what if. You never know when an opportunity may come in your later years that callls upon all if your life’s experiences for a greater good. One came for me at age 51, added another at 52, and another at 56. “The most important thing is to be prepared for opportunity” is the key. Well said!

  18. Very interesting. I don’t think a lot about my past anymore. Impostor syndrome though is something I know too. But when I was young you either became a doctor, lawyer, teacher, if you went to university. My being “intellectual” did not fit in anyway and I didn’t know what it was that made me different. All my female classmates but one studied, then stayed home with their children, some of the marriages failed. They’re all a tad bitter today because of lost opportunities which does not mean they don’t love their children dearly.

    Looking back I find that from where I was standing at the time some propositions just seemed too long a shot. On the other hand I did dare a lot, gave up my employed existence, worked freelance, for a decade lived partly on semi-professional theatre and can’t really remember ever working in a stable economy. The highs were great, the lows extraordinary. Of course this has shaped me and I know now what I can achieve if I put myself to it. I am also glad I met and still meet unconventional people which I wouldn’t have otherwise.

    I am at a point now where I get offered opportunities and can accept them without much ado. But they are not such long shots anymore. Maybe they’re closer to home, maybe I just know better what I can do and whether it’s worth the effort.

    What I should not do anymore, however, is turn down all stuff that’s fun just because I feel I need to work. Now that, at 52, would be regrettable.

    1. You bring up a good point. Things are long shots when we are young – so much unknown. I always welcome insights that promote self-forgiveness:).

  19. Beautifully presented post. Scrabbling through the scree–a mother of an effort, but oh so worth it when you get to the mountaintop.

    Ah, the Opportunity Review–those taken, those that slipped away, intentionally or otherwise–it’s always somewhat bittersweet, and usually instructive, so long as we don’t veer into Regret, with all its wailing and gnashing of teeth.

    I like to think that we come into this life to work on our “themes” (I dislike the term “purpose,” as there’s something fixed and linear about it, and life is anything but!). Opportunities arise, allowing us, on our clearest days, to consider how they might help us best manifest our themes. I like to keep in mind, on those challenging days, that we really can’t get it wrong, because even when we pass up an opportunity, or believe we got the choice wrong, we’re still working out our themes, and are therefore right on target.

    My hard-won lesson about opportunity is that it doesn’t necessarily appear as a blazing neon Vegas-style billboard; sometimes it’s the small handpainted sign, stuck in the middle of nowhere out on the plains, that says, “Come see the world’s largest prairie dog!” We just need to be paying attention. Oh, and willing to peer around those fixed ideas that block our sightline.

  20. I hope your son is getting along on the East Coast. I think it takes a light touch to counsel children about opportunity. The places and things are always different. Family lore is useful because then it’s a story. Child can take what he/she likes or thinks is relevant, and leave the rest.

    Husband once wrote a book about email (it was a new thing at the time) and his father, a professional writer, read it. He didn’t criticize or say much about it apart from railing about how the hyphen had fallen out of favor in modern language. Although that seems flakey, it was the right thing to say. He didn’t know anything about the “email frontier” but he did know about punctuation and grammer.

  21. Intriguing and thoughtful. Would you be willing to also write about some you did take?

    Rejecting most opportunities leads to an old age infused with regret. But not one of us takes every opportunity offered; it takes confidence to open the door when there’s a knock, and some knocks are best met with, “Not today, thanks.”

  22. Interesting. At 43, not sure I’ve missed many opportunities. I did, however, take a number of professional ones that subsequently dimmed substantially when I realized the work was incredibly tedious, or management untrustworthy. I do think back to a marketing professor 20+ years ago who complimented my writing and how much that meant to me. I promptly disregarded it and allowed myself to be propelled down the “doctor, lawyer, engineer, CEO or failure” path of externally-approved options, and do wish I had had some faith in my talent and the validity of the prof’s praise and done something that I would have valued with my time.

    Odd coincidences, I came to this page after seeing a reference to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean Forward TED Talk, which I loathe loathe loathe loathe loath – only because she didn’t say what she should have – lean forward for what YOU want. Not mindlessly, for what others force on you, just because. In this business culture, where we deny ourselves and try to be something else, that part needed to be said – do not lean forward for what mom/dad/private school/advisor has shoved you into against your will, or else you will waste your life.

  23. I have a brother who probably never missed an opportunity in his professional life. He is vastly more professionally successful and affluent than yours truly.

    Why him and not me? I think two words cover it – drive and focus. I didn’t want a career that was all encompassing and my private/home life was more important than work. I still had a satisfying career that I loved til the day I retired and don’t regret it a bit.

    1. I hear you, Carolyn. I could have been much more successful in law if the work (most times times) and the all encompassing nature of partnership (everywhere) didn’t viscerally repulse me. When one gets to the point of asking oneself “why don’t I just force myself harder to like that thing that makes me want to run screaming?” then the forces of darkness have taken one’s soul. No one should have to force things that way. Some want to work nonstop, others of us want satisfying lives…

  24. Lisa, yours are some of the wisest and most thoughtful posts on the web, I think. Opportunity indeed! I’m sure that many more are coming your way. And I thank you again for generously sharing what you’ve learned; so often what one must go through in order to learn these things is not at all easy.

    I’m a young person–even a “very” young one, pending where one’s sense of relativity–and I wish I could pick your mind about the big questions of life. To write or practice law in NYC? One might enjoy, and enjoy competence in, both options. To live on one’s own for the first time as a young woman starting out in the The City, or move in with the older, admittedly very kind and devoted (but slightly boring) boyfriend? In any case, your discussion strikes right into the core of it all. I think I know, a little, what you mean by opportunity: I can’t tell if it’s the whirlwind phantasma of youth or just technology actually enhancing the pace of life, but it seems like every time I turn around, twenty more possibilities are passing just by, and passing off into the distance.

  25. PS. From a daughter to a mother. Your girl is very lucky, and I’m sure knows that well… There is no gift greater than that of growing up in care and love.

    I suspect that last opportunity you cite, the one you don’t regret, was also the one in which you most consciously made a decision about taking it or not–perhaps that also has some effect on regret (or lack thereof)?

    1. I’m honored. Consciousness is all, I agree. And feel free to ask questions – I will write a post in answer if I feel I have anything to offer.

  26. I could have written Susan’s comment (comment #4) word for word!

    I am now at the point of What Next, after being home for oh so many years. No regrets whatsoever, but I sometimes can’t help but wonder where I’d be if I had chosen another path.

    But my personal mantra from a favorite song: There’s another train, there always is. Maybe the next one is yours…

  27. The book-chapter has not been closed yet, no? There is something about people and their wish/dream/desire of writing a book. They often tell about the book that has not been written.
    They have something to say. And it won’t go away. The contents may alter, but the drive remains.

    Why not start today? It seems to be an enjoyable process, including the struggling and deadlines. You could it by yourself. You can even publish a ISBN-code all by yourself.

    Those who accomplished (some with publishers, some self-publishers) all have this glow that comes with a child. The more I think about it, the surer I am: a book is like a child and now that your son and your daughter lead their own lives, maybe it’s time for a new “baby”, the book!

    1. The job is too big right now. But I keep the idea parked in my mind. I have also realized that eventually looking for even wider blog readership would be just as good, given my own particular goals and needs. So when I retire again, think of how much to look forward too:).

  28. I think you could still write that book. Or a different book. It’s interesting to pinpoint the passed opportunities in life, though. So far I can think of just one for myself (a possible master’s degree whose focus didn’t seem quite right at the time), but I’m sure there will be more over time.

    1. Seems to me from what I know that you have done a very good job of seizing the right opportunities so far.

  29. Interesting post and comments.

    I try to make a practice of regretting nothing, realising that I made the best decision I could at the time with the information and circumstances I had at the time. You know what they say about hindsight…

    I think it’s a bit of a blight to teach children ‘you can do anything you put your mind to!’. Firstly it opens up limitless options which can be overwhelming and secondly, it’s just not true! Most of the teenagers who say ‘I want to be a doctor’ (for example) could never get into med school and actually really wouldn’t want to be a doctor if they knew what it was like.

    I was one of the very few in my youth opera chorus who didn’t put up my hand when asked ‘Who wants a career in opera?’. Most of them were just being agreeable and I knew the years of study and practice, struggling financially, learning languages, music theory etc. were not for me. I’m happy singing in a good choir…

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