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What to do when you feel like you've wasted your life


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#1 psi20

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 07:28 AM

Hi. I used to ask questions on this forum maybe 6-8 years ago back in high school.
Now I'm about to graduate college, and I feel like I've wasted not only much of my college career, but also much of life in general. You ever felt like that? I'm studying math at the university I'm at.
But I'm not really engaged in it. I feel like I wasted my opportunities here and really haven't pursued any research opportunities that were available. I'm just having regrets I guess.
What do you do when you're at that point where you don't know where to go? And you feel like you've wasted what was one of your best opportunities in life, potentially destroyed any career plans you have in the future, etc.

I've talked to a few friends, and they might say things like, "What are you talking about? Wasted your life? You're doing well in your classes, you're graduating this year, etc." But I don't think they understand. I was wondering if anyone had advice or thoughts from another perspective.
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#2 ajb

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 07:57 AM

We all feel like that at times. It is important to note that you define if your life has been wasted or not. Other people cannot really judge it, either way.

All you can do is try to learn from any mistakes you have made and get on with life. Other opportunities will present themselves, it is just a matter of time. Try to stay positive, and take it from me, I know how hard that can be.
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#3 CaptainPanic

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 09:21 AM

Let's assume that you are interested in the more exact forms of science (in other words, you do not wish to switch your career into, for example, behavioral studies or medicine)... then I would suggest that mathematical knowledge is always extremely important, and therefore the world will be your playground.

By choosing maths, I would suggest that you actually have kept a lot of options open... you probably just don't know how many.
So, you haven't wasted any opportunities, you only neglected to look over the horizon. A faculty of maths might perhaps be a little conservative in its career suggestions to its students.
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#4 lemur

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 03:25 PM

At some point in my academic development, I gained the ability to take a step back and look at what goes on in terms of academic life and research from a more generalist perspective. At that point I realized how much effort, time, and resources are devoted to generating academic lifestyles. The same is true of corporate lifestyles, etc. Most people are in the business of enhancing work and leisure experiences for others. The idea that people would drop all work/leisure enhancement activities as being a wasteful diversion from some core focus is practically unimaginable for most people. So you can't really waste your time/life by missing research opportunities because research opportunities are themselves mostly a justification for people to waste their time and get spoiled lavishly for doing so. Sure, there are lots of things that you could be doing to improve the world but you would be working against social-economic institutions that have been designed to obscure and prevent people from improving the world for themselves, so it's not that much of a waste when people shirk attempting to do good. Really, the main thing you can do to validate your existence is to cultivate some clear vision of how things work for yourself and a sense of how your activities influence your own life and that of others. This makes you into a responsible individual with a sense of active participation and influence in their own life. I think the rest flows from that point.
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#5 Marat

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 03:44 PM

A friend of mine was very much like you, at least externally considered, in that he was just about to complete his Ph.D. in math at M.I.T. and felt that he had wasted his life because math hadn't turned out to be as interesting as he had once imagined. I think this problem often plagues mathematicians, since they are either working on an inspiring breakthrough or not, and the fallow periods can make it seem as though all the spark has gone out of life, even when another interesting problem to work on is around the corner. I have often found in my own work that periods when I thought I was making no progress were in fact quite fruitful, since I was unconsciously accumulating knowledge and preparing the groundwork for more tangible productivity later.

If it does turn out that the vein of math has been mined out for you, you are lucky in that math is the language of the sciences, as has been pointed out already, and you can always make the switch to something more concrete, like theoretical physics, with only a few more years investment, and your math background will still be important and valuable, and thus not wasted time. Alternatively, you could even try a more creative solution, like switching into philosophical and mathematical logic, Goedel's theorem and the like, which can be quite a fascinating field for someone with a mathematial background, but which would transplant you into an entirely new and stimulating environment of philosophy.

The final thing to keep in mind is that all defintions of the purpose of life are arbitrary, since no one an ultimately say what is the best thing for sentient beings to do while passing their time under the shadow of inevitable death. For example, if you were a primitive tribesman from Papua New Guinea, your life would be defined now as worthless because you had not yet proved yourself a successful headhunter by killing at least one person outside the tribe and displaying his shrunken head on your belt.
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#6 Ladeira

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 06:44 PM

It's quite nice that you assumed now that you have lost opportunities. Your career is not over because of college. In college, you just have to learn. Joining a research or not, you learned somehow (as your friend said "you're doing well in classes") what was to be learnt.

I'm almost sure you've got an urge for opportunities like those you've left behind. And that's the right time. Postgraduating will give you that no matter what happened - or didn't - in college. Focus on what's coming your way and look for what might come. Talk to some of your professors, I'm sure it is going to help.

And you didn't waste your life! You're graduating :)
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#7 michel123456

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 07:46 PM

One single advice: NEVER LOOK BACK.

Have you ever noticed the difference between you and those heroes at the movies or comic strips: they struggle, they fight, they hurt, they bleed. They never look back to their own adventures. What happens happens, and that's it. Never regret anything. Think that if you are a student, it means life has been very (very) kind with you. If you have your 2 eyes, your arms, your legs (and the in-betweens), you haven't got any difficulty yet.

look at Nick:


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Michel what have you done?


#8 CaptainPanic

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Posted 27 April 2011 - 09:39 AM

One single advice: NEVER LOOK BACK.

Have you ever noticed the difference between you and those heroes at the movies or comic strips: they struggle, they fight, they hurt, they bleed. They never look back to their own adventures. What happens happens, and that's it. Never regret anything.


Well... that kind of attitude also goes for certain kinds of criminals.

In real life, you are responsible for the decisions you take. But it's never too late to change, and if no harm was done in the past, you can safely let it rest.

And I completely agree with almost all posts here: college is just the start, and you have the world at your feet. You have (nearly) all choices still open.

Edited by CaptainPanic, 27 April 2011 - 09:41 AM.

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#9 Marat

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Posted 27 April 2011 - 07:28 PM

If you don't look back and have the occasional regret, then you are not a complete human. You have to live in all three dimensions of human experience -- past, present, and future -- to be fully grounded. The trick is to be able to look back, regret, wish you could do things over, but then still be able to focus creatively on the future.
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#10 D^3

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Posted 28 April 2011 - 01:48 AM

I, at times, have the same sentiments: "What am I doing with my life?" and feel as if I could have taken one of the various routes I had in mind when I graduated from high school. It isn't really regret as it is my being an impatient dreamer on my part. The remedy to this, for me, is to assess the skills that you have learned and possibly will learn and see where it can take you via google and find the things that you could find yourself enjoying.

That, and everything the person above me said.
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#11 Genecks

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Posted 20 May 2011 - 11:55 PM

As a person who is into neuroscience and biological regeneration, I don't feel that way. The field continues to grow.

I was big into the arts and psychology, but my transhumanist philosophy keeps me motivated.

Anyway, I would suggest just slanting your future studies into a new direction that you find exploratory.
Perhaps slant things toward neuromathematics, biomathematics, or bioengineering?
Maybe create some kind of learning software that works with atomic force microscopy in order to help better diagnose particular biological variations of interest?
Perhaps get a masters degree in an ecological field where you can go out and adventure while modeling particular population dynamics?

Really, I think if you slant things toward biology, you may find that there is a realm of information there is yet to uncover.
Remember, there is graduate school. You can change your interests yet use your past knowledge and training to accomplish new things.

Edited by Genecks, 21 May 2011 - 12:05 AM.

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#12 hypervalent_iodine

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Posted 21 May 2011 - 01:23 AM

As others have said, math is very much the foundation of a lot of areas of science. You haven't 'wasted' your time in the sense that if you were wanting to pursue a different scientific discipline, you already have a lot of very useful skills at your disposal.

However, re-reading your post I think that you are more disappointed that you haven't taken up any research opportunities and have therefore wasted valuable chances - that you've somehow wasted your time by virtue of the fact that you haven't gone out of your way to actively gain experience and apply your knowledge to research type situations. Your problem, if I am reading this correctly, is that you don't feel like you've not done anything. I could be mistaken in that. In any case, I think it's important to note that it's never too late to become motivated. I don't know what your university is like, but if you are desperate for a chance to do something you consider worthwhile, maybe speak to a professor engaged in research if you can volunteer to do some work on a project for a little while? Otherwise, there's always post-graduate course work. The main thing to note is, as I said before, it's never too late. You just have to have the right attitude and motivation to remedy your issue. You'd be surprised how far a little motivation gets you.
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#13 Genecks

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 05:30 AM

Hi. I used to ask questions on this forum maybe 6-8 years ago back in high school.
Now I'm about to graduate college, and I feel like I've wasted not only much of my college career, but also much of life in general. You ever felt like that? I'm studying math at the university I'm at.
But I'm not really engaged in it. I feel like I wasted my opportunities here and really haven't pursued any research opportunities that were available. I'm just having regrets I guess.
What do you do when you're at that point where you don't know where to go? And you feel like you've wasted what was one of your best opportunities in life, potentially destroyed any career plans you have in the future, etc.

I've talked to a few friends, and they might say things like, "What are you talking about? Wasted your life? You're doing well in your classes, you're graduating this year, etc." But I don't think they understand. I was wondering if anyone had advice or thoughts from another perspective.


Yes, I agree with the previous poster.

The point I was trying to make was that you've developed a nice set of skills. That doesn't mean you have to use those skills to develop more of those skills through research.
You could use those skills to develop or further particular realms of research that are slanted from what you have been doing: As such, I suggested going into biomathematics.
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#14 DrRocket

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Posted 25 May 2011 - 02:11 AM

Hi. I used to ask questions on this forum maybe 6-8 years ago back in high school.
Now I'm about to graduate college, and I feel like I've wasted not only much of my college career, but also much of life in general. You ever felt like that? I'm studying math at the university I'm at.
But I'm not really engaged in it. I feel like I wasted my opportunities here and really haven't pursued any research opportunities that were available. I'm just having regrets I guess.
What do you do when you're at that point where you don't know where to go? And you feel like you've wasted what was one of your best opportunities in life, potentially destroyed any career plans you have in the future, etc.

I've talked to a few friends, and they might say things like, "What are you talking about? Wasted your life? You're doing well in your classes, you're graduating this year, etc." But I don't think they understand. I was wondering if anyone had advice or thoughts from another perspective.


Eugene Wigner once remarked that "One of the marks of genius is that when you try something and it doesn't work the next time you try something different."

If math doesn't work for you, then try something different.

Edited by DrRocket, 25 May 2011 - 02:13 AM.

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#15 Athena

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Posted 25 May 2011 - 03:11 PM

A friend of mine was very much like you, at least externally considered, in that he was just about to complete his Ph.D. in math at M.I.T. and felt that he had wasted his life because math hadn't turned out to be as interesting as he had once imagined. I think this problem often plagues mathematicians, since they are either working on an inspiring breakthrough or not, and the fallow periods can make it seem as though all the spark has gone out of life, even when another interesting problem to work on is around the corner. I have often found in my own work that periods when I thought I was making no progress were in fact quite fruitful, since I was unconsciously accumulating knowledge and preparing the groundwork for more tangible productivity later.

If it does turn out that the vein of math has been mined out for you, you are lucky in that math is the language of the sciences, as has been pointed out already, and you can always make the switch to something more concrete, like theoretical physics, with only a few more years investment, and your math background will still be important and valuable, and thus not wasted time. Alternatively, you could even try a more creative solution, like switching into philosophical and mathematical logic, Goedel's theorem and the like, which can be quite a fascinating field for someone with a mathematial background, but which would transplant you into an entirely new and stimulating environment of philosophy.

The final thing to keep in mind is that all defintions of the purpose of life are arbitrary, since no one an ultimately say what is the best thing for sentient beings to do while passing their time under the shadow of inevitable death. For example, if you were a primitive tribesman from Papua New Guinea, your life would be defined now as worthless because you had not yet proved yourself a successful headhunter by killing at least one person outside the tribe and displaying his shrunken head on your belt.



Good idea, kill someone, shrink the head and wear it on a belt. That really puts our ideas about what is important in life in perspective. :lol:

I love the suggestion of going into philosophy or psychology from math. I deeply envy the person who can do that. I would give just about anything to have a good understanding of the maths. Using it in combination with another interest, would make for a very rich life. Perhaps the kind of life Jefferson spoke of when he spoke of the pursuit of happiness. Which meant the pursuit of meaningful knowledge.

I have heard, algebra can be used to figure out human behavior. Is that right? I grew up in LA in the 60ty's and street gangs and poverty remain big issues in my thinking. How different is it to wear a shrunken head, or to build a gang rep. by killing at least one person? What if math applied to what appears to instinctive behavior (desire for status), and only mildly controlled by civilization, revealed something really important, improving our decision making regarding this conflict between what a subculture thinks is important and what we think should be avoided? Seriously, should we blame gang killing on nature and the environment or bad parenting?

You all don't seem to like the idea of math being sacred, but it sure cures the problem of having math knowledge and thinking one wasted time while achieving this knowledge. The book "A Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe" can spark a person's imagination and that seems to be what some people are missing, imagination. Einstein believed imagination to be very important, and I keep wondering, does education in math, or another science, kill a person's ability to be imaginative and creative?

Genecks, those were some great suggestions!

Edited by Athena, 25 May 2011 - 03:33 PM.

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#16 Tom Byers

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Posted 11 July 2011 - 02:54 AM

Wasting life, wasting time, putting off important goals. Not a straightforward problem. The goals of our daydreams often revolve around fame or fortune, standing out from the crowd. If we all buy into that culture then most of the crowd will judge themselves to have an empty life. Sometimes a life event or even just age will lead a person to reconsider "what really matters." I think you can help that process along by questioning your own priorities and talking about your goals with people close to you. An unexamined goal may not be worth pursuing.
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#17 xxSilverPhinxx

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 05:05 PM

In a world where most people are mathematically illiterate, the world is your oyster. I'm guessing that you won't have a problem with opportunities.
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