It’s the third semester of online school, and lately I’ve been worrying that I’ve made too many mistakes. It’s not that I’m discontent with my life. I like who I am. I like my friends, I like my roommates, I like my classes. 

It’s just that I spend more time at home than I ever have before, which means I have more time to think, which means that I’ve been reflecting on the decisions I’ve made that led me to where I am today, and, well, there are some things I could have done differently. 

While I was at home during winter break, these thoughts rose to a deafening volume. I was overcome with a sense of anxiety that I could only calm by scribbling in adult coloring books and watching episodes of “Bob Ross: The Joy of Painting” on YouTube. I watched an episode almost every day — while I ate lunch, while I sat around with my family, before I fell asleep. My anxious thought patterns were so overwhelming that I had to constantly distract myself from the noise in my head. It was too much. Bob Ross was my only relief. 

Each episode of Bob Ross’s show is almost 30 minutes long. He sports the same look in every episode: a pair of tight jeans, a button down shirt (the first three buttons undone), and a mountain of hair permed into a big, tight sphere around his head. The background is completely black, so the viewer can focus solely on the canvas and Bob Ross’s calming voice. “Hello, and welcome to ‘The Joy of Painting,’” he says at the beginning of the show. These are words I’ve come to memorize as if they were my own.

Still, while I watched Bob Ross scrape gentle sloping mountains onto the canvas with his painting knife, my anxious thoughts would creep forward. You’re stupid, they’d tell me. You spent your first two years of college doing all the wrong things, and now look at you. You’re stuck doing online school and you have no control over your own life. 

But the thing about regrets, as my friend told me the other day, is that there’s absolutely no point in having them. You made the decision you knew how to make at the time. Even if you were able to go back and change something, you probably wouldn’t, because you would be the same person you were then, and you would still be looking at the situation from your young, naive perspective. 

I’m sure many of us are feeling this way, wishing we would have taken greater advantage of in-person opportunities when we could. When I have thoughts like that, I have to remember who I was as a college first-year and sophomore. I was completely different. I was less confident. I felt like I was unworthy of love, and I felt completely lost. I didn’t know who I was. Now, I’m almost 22. In just a few years, I’ve gained so much more perspective on the world. I know who I am, and despite the emotional ebb and flow of anxious thoughts, I’m happy with myself. I’ve learned how to handle situations that I would have never been able to navigate as an 18-year-old, and I’ve embarked on a long journey of self-love and self-discovery. 

So, what am I so worried about? If it’s true what people say, that mistakes help you learn, then I should be grateful that I messed up as many times as I did. After all, isn’t that what youth is about? Messing up, making mistakes, and learning from them? 

I’m starting to think, though, that there’s no such thing as mistakes at all. I like to think that Bob Ross had it right when he said, “There are no mistakes. Only happy accidents.” Even if you get physically repulsed by thinking about a mistake you made in the past, as I often do, try not to be so hard on yourself. Because although you made it once, you’ll never make it again.

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