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Should You Do The Do-Over If There's A Chance For A Second Chance?

It's not often that people get a second chance, and in fact, for many people, there is no such thing as a second chance.

In a 2011 post for, Alex Lickerman, author, general internist and former director of primary care and current assistant vice president for Student Health and Counseling Services at the University of Chicago, wrote this about second chances and regret:

"Our focus shouldn't be on what might have been because in general and over time it's unlikely to have been any better or worse than what is."

An informal poll of my social networks drew responses with a similar sentiment: Forget do-overs, just do BETTER.

But, if you have a chance for a second chance, should you do the do-over?

Too Tightly Strung?

Seven years ago, Washington Post Magazine writer Gene Weingarten posed this question to readers: "IF A GREAT MUSICIAN PLAYS GREAT MUSIC BUT NO ONE HEARS . . . WAS HE REALLY ANY GOOD?"

Violinist Joshua Bell at the National Christmas Tree Lighting in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 6.
Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
Violinist Joshua Bell at the National Christmas Tree Lighting in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 6.

This was a key part of a story that later was awarded a Pulitzer Prize, about a man playing a violin in a Washington, D.C., Metro station on a Friday morning in January. That man was violin virtuoso and conductor Joshua Bell.

More than 1,000 people passed Joshua Bell and his violin without stopping that morning, though, according to videojournalist John Poole, who shot the video that accompanied the story (disclaimer: I worked with John at and he works for NPR now), at least 20 people stopped, including one woman who recognized Bell and listened for more than 10 minutes.

On Tuesday, Sept. 30, Joshua Bell is going to do it again. Sort of. At 12:30 p.m. he will perform for 30 minutes in the main hall of Union Station in Washington, D.C. He wants a do-over, according to Washington Post reporter Jessica Contrera, who quotes him as saying:

"I'm in dangerous territory of it becoming the main thing I'm known for in my life. I really don't want that on my tombstone: Here he is, underground again."

What was that Dr. Lickerman wrote about regret?

More from Jessica's piece:

"He doesn't want the subway stunt to define him, but that doesn't mean he can't embrace a timely public-transit encore.

"So the do-over is for him, his perfectionist tendencies, and for all the people who came up and said 'I wish I would have been there!' (Like former president Bill Clinton, who said it to Bell at a recent concert in New York. 'If he had been there, no one would have paid attention to me anyway,' the violinist says.)"

Videojournalist John Poole, who said he came to the project as a documentarian and had no preconceived notion about what might happen, isn't sure Bell has anything to worry about regarding his legacy, as it were.

"It's strange to me that that moment has become such a cultural touchstone," he says. "Because, ultimately, I'm not really sure what it showed.

"But," John says, "the basic premise that humans should spend more time in the present moment, I'm all for that."

Tanya Ballard Brown — who focuses on doing better — is an editor for who often sings Michael Jackson songs at her desk. Loudly. You can reach out to her on Facebook, Google+, Tumblr and Twitter.


The Protojournalist: Experimental storytelling for the LURVers — Listeners, Users, Readers, Viewers — of NPR. @NPRtpj

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Tanya Ballard Brown is an editor for NPR. She joined the organization in 2008.

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