All The Difference: People Share The Decisions They Say Ruined Their Lives

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Everyone has a few regrets. You might wish that you’d spent more time with your family, followed a different career path, or simply remembered to check on your microwave burrito before it ruined the break room microwave. Hey, we’ve all been there.

However, some mistakes are harder to wash away than others. In a recent thread, Reddit users shared their stories of the mistakes they say ruined their lives.  


We collected a few of the most wrenching stories, then edited them for grammar and readability. Along the way, we also tried to provide a few rays of hope and suggestions for people who find themselves in similar situations—if you believe that you’ve ruined your life with a series of bad decisions, there’s actually a good chance that the situation’s not quite as dire as you think.  

This story starts with a pretty minor (and apparently harmless) decision.

“I bought a new keyboard,” wrote tac-21a.

“Back in 1999, I bought a new keyboard for my PC, as my old one broke. I didn’t read the price correctly, and it left me with £245 in the bank. My car payment was £258, and it bounced. They then tried to take it three more times before payday, and the bank canceled the direct debit to prevent charges.”

“The next month, I didn’t realize that the direct debit had been canceled, so I continued as normal. In month three, they came looking for the money. I made an arrangement with a nice lady from the finance company, and we filled in a direct debit form, adding the missed payment plus charges and interest over the remainder of the loan. The bank refused to honor the direct debit, but I didn’t find this out until three more months later.”

“Bear in mind that this was before internet banking, so I had no easy way of instantly checking my balance. We eventually got it sorted, but it really badly affected my credit rating, and I’m still recovering from it even now.”


Late payments can absolutely crush your credit, but in the United States, they’re removed from your credit report after seven years. We’re not sure whether that’s the case in the United Kingdom (we’re assuming that tac-21a isn’t American, given that he was paying with pounds—then again, maybe he’s just weird about currency).  

Again, though, there’s good news: If you’ve missed a payment, you can often request a goodwill adjustment by contacting your creditor. Even if they’re not willing to provide the adjustment, older missed payments have less of an effect on your credit score; just make sure that you don’t miss any other payments, and eventually, your credit should recover.

Other financial issues are more difficult to overcome.

“I started getting behind on bills, so I took out a small payday loan,” wrote xoxomaxine. “I paid it back. Then I started relying on them to continue paying bills.”

“It went for the worse when I needed to take another payday loan for rent and food. Then I needed to take out another payday loan just to pay a previous payday loan. Don’t ever take out a payday loan.”

With that said, payday loans aren’t always a bad thing, necessarily—provided that you understand what you’re getting into.


“Some people can manage them responsibly,” wrote haveatyee. “I get them every once in a while myself. You just have to make sure you can pay back what you’re borrowing on payday. For people like me with [bad] credit (crazy ex-girlfriend), they’re amazing, since I won’t be able to get a decent credit card for a long time.”

As of 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau enforces nationwide standards for payday loans, so lenders must verify that a borrower can actually repay the loan before offering large amounts of money.


Still, the loans aren’t exactly a great deal; on average, borrowers pay $15 for every $1,000 borrowed, which is equivalent to a 391 percent annual interest rate. If you find yourself in a position where you’re considering this type of loan, exhaust all other options first. If you’ve already taken out a loan and you’re in over your head, check your state’s laws and with the aforementioned Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to make sure that the lender is acting legally.

When bad things happen, try not to blame yourself.

“I was 14,” wrote -pumpkin-. “My mom was sick in the bathroom. She seemed to have a stomach bug. My dad was busy getting ready to go to work, and he told me to keep an eye on my mom. I brushed it off because I had homework and wanted to get on the computer to message my friends. 20 minutes or so later, he was about to head out the door when he asked me if she was doing okay. I said I hadn’t checked yet. I sighed and made my way to the bathroom. That’s where we found her dead on the floor from a heart attack.”

“I know it’s not my fault that she died, but if I had just gone to check on her sooner or sat with her for a while, it’s possible the paramedics could have gotten there in time to save her.”


“My father ended up going kinda nuts after that, became abusive, and I moved in with a foster family—my life was absolutely forever changed by her death.”

Obviously, that’s a horrific situation, but there’s no way that -pumpkin- could have understood the situation at the time. For adults, of course, it’s important to understand the warning signs of a heart attack, as they can vary greatly; symptoms like nausea, sweating, clammy skin, and generalized fatigue can all indicate a heart attack, but they can also indicate a number of other less serious conditions (this piece from HealthyWay gives a good rundown of risk factors and symptoms).


“The faster you get medical attention, the greater chance of restoring blood flow to the heart muscle,” Teri Dreher, RN, CCRN, iRNPA, a private professional patient advocate from Chicago, told HealthyWay in 2017. “If you wait over four hours, there is usually little they can do to reverse or restore the situation. ‘Time is muscle,’ as they say in the medical field—the longer the artery is blocked, the less chance of preventing that part of the heart’s muscle being saved.”

Many Reddit users expressed regret over the way they handled their academic careers.

“I would play hookie in college often, and then I actually got mono and failed my first semester with a 0.06 cumulative GPA,” wrote RavishingRandall. “Got a 3.3 for the second semester and still only averaged out to 1.6 GPA, so I was kicked out of the university. It blew, and I never went back, I’m sorry [it happened].”

Other Reddit users provided some advice for rectifying this mistake.


“Academic renewal is a thing, and can go a long way towards getting your GPA back in order and your education back on track,” wrote Notalentass. “I dropped four classes I barely passed—I lost the credits, but I also lost the impact to my GPA. Now that I’ve taken this step, my As actually count as As, and aren’t degraded by my failures in the past.”

Here’s another heartbreaker.

“Four years ago, my mom decided to go on a trip to see my sister for her birthday,” wrote underairpressure. “I got extremely ill right before she was going to leave, and I knew that if she found out, she would cancel all her plans and stay home for me. She had just gone through a rough divorce from my dad, and had been clearly miserable and abused basically her entire life before that. I wanted her to have fun and enjoy herself for once, so…I hid that I was sick.”

“Big mistake. She died in a car crash on that trip. And I not only had to deal with [that], but due to some legal loopholes and ‘unusual circumstances,’ my extended family all but abandoned me, taking all her things with them. I effectively became immediately homeless.”


“Obviously, [it] wasn’t my ‘fault,’ y’know…but it’s true that she would not have gone on that trip—and so, would not have died—if I had just told her I was sick. That one choice I made, and my entire life was ruined. I don’t think I’ll ever fully recover from the year that followed … .”

That’s a horrific set of circumstances, but another Reddit user jumped in with another perspective.

“It’s easy to look at from that point of view, but don’t forget that you decided to do what you did because you were being thoughtful and caring,” noted mtn_dew_connossieur. “Your heart was in the right place, trying to bring some happiness into your mom’s life after a difficult time. You can’t blame yourself for that.”

Credit card debt can feel like a life-ruining mistake, but there’s hope.

“[My worst mistake was] using a credit card in 2012,” wrote DolphinsFlyWithWings. “I’m now over $10,000 in credit card debt. I still owe $4,000 on a [junk] car and a few hundred on personal loans. It’s like the past 6+ years in the Marines have been pointless, financially speaking. And I only have about seven weeks until I get out. I’ll get my head straight once I start school though. Wish me luck.”

For what it’s worth, $14,000 in debt is formidable, but not impossible to pay down. Chances are, you’re in a similar position—the average American has about $6,375 in credit card debt, per an annual study from credit reporting firm Experian. Total credit card debt is the highest it’s ever been in the United States, but financial experts note that the right tactics can help to address (and eventually eliminate) those high-interest loans.


Writing for Forbes, financial analyst Zack Friedman recommends breaking debt into smaller chunks to make the repayment process more manageable. Use balance transfers to get APRs as low as possible, then pay off the debt with the largest APR first; if you’re having trouble committing to that process, pay off the card with the smallest balance, as this can provide a confidence boost that helps you tackle the bigger components of your debt. Many consumers can also use credit card consolidation loans to limit interest.

While credit card debt can seem insurmountable, big balances aren’t necessarily a “life-ruining mistake.” Just don’t keep making the same mistake in the future, and you’ll eventually make your way back to financial stability.

Several Reddit users said that their worst mistake was attending art school.

“I think a big trap a lot of us arts students face is thinking that the only careers we can get into are directly tied to our major,” wrote strider_moon, responding to frankxcastle, who pursued a degree in history and creative writing.  

“I did the exact same degree as you and really struggled to find a job in those fields. It became clear it wasn’t going to happen, so I started applying for jobs that would use the skills I learned instead. Broad stuff like writing, editing, moderate computer skills, analytical and argumentative writing, presentation, research, detail-oriented work, working in a team—stuff that you did inside and outside of class.”

“I really sold that on my resume and found jobs that I thought might need those skills. I made sure to look in areas I never thought I would work in—areas that might not have jobs for someone with my degree, but might want someone with my skills. After a year, I finally got a job as a procedure writer for a mill.”


“It wasn’t where I thought I would be, but honestly, it’s a job I can do, and it’s one I enjoy. Most of all, I can support myself while I do the creative arts I’ve always wanted to do. Some people are all about their career. For others, your career is just a way to do what you’re truly passionate about.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median wage for arts and design occupations was $45,250 in 2017. That’s higher than the median annual wage for all occupations, which is $37,690.

Those are just positions within artistic fields, of course.


“Regardless of the industry, we need people who can solve problems, write well, speak well, bring multiple perspectives to decision-making,” Robert Vega, director of liberal arts career services at the University of Texas, told the BLS. “We need people who are good managers, who are cross-culturally competent. All of that is liberal arts.”

In other words, if you’re considering an art degree, don’t listen to the hype; there are plenty of great jobs out there, provided that you’re willing to expand your thinking. And hey, you’re an artist—expanding your thinking should come naturally.

Many people said that they’ve wasted decades of their lives.

“My worst mistake was marrying my soon-to-be-ex-husband,” wrote rightinthefeelsies. “I got married too young, loved too much, trusted too much, and ended up dropping out of college to focus on marriage and work and finances at home—instead of securing an independent future that I had worked so hard for.”

“I recently discovered he’s been lying and cheating on me for five of the 7.5 years we’ve been married. It all came without any warning. I had never had reason to believe he was dishonest or unfaithful; it just all came crashing down one day.”


“I feel like I’ve completely wasted my 20s and college [education]. I may not ever get a chance at having a family of my own at this point. I truly hate him for all of it and he’s [messed] my life up so badly.”

Another Reddit user expressed similar regret for “wasting” his 20s due to bouts of depression.

“Honestly, I still struggle with it, and the thought of my best years (in terms of youth) having passed and been destroyed, it makes me sad,” wrote Olimarwearspants. “But I have managed to deal with it better now. I meditate, I took up reading, and I continue to work out on a daily basis. I make sure to set some goals for myself for the day, even if they’re small goals. Accomplishing them makes me feel better.”

“One thing I can say is that with depression, doing anything is hard. You just have to force yourself to do these things. I regret letting it cripple me, and I’m trying to make it where, in 10 years, I won’t have this same regret about my 30s. And even though the depressions still lingers, I’ve made progress and that gives me some hope.”


Of course, making mistakes is part of life—and dealing with a serious mental health issue like depression certainly isn’t a mistake. Recent research suggests that people are more likely to have regrets when they perceive discrepancies between their “actual” and “ideal” selves; in other words, you’re likely to dwell on missed opportunities.

The solution: Take actions that move you toward your ideals, and focus on your accomplishments rather than the mistakes. We know, we know—it’s easier said than done. Still, few people live their lives without regrets; the real trick is learning how to move past those feelings.

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