There are some very special people in this world that take a certain pride in saying they live with no regrets.
No regrets? Really? None?
Did you never make a mistake in your life?
Or you did, but you don’t regret it. Why not? Is it because you lack the spine to condemn yourself for making a mistake, or for some other reason? Ahhh, I know: it is because you learned from it. But now wouldn’t it have been better simply to have done the correct thing from the beginning? I believe it’s called “Not making a mistake”. As I view it, not making a mistake is always better than making a mistake. The whole point of this learning you glorify is to prevent you from making mistakes.
But you persist, because you are (like I said) special and living in a culture that glorifies mistakes like they are an end in and of themselves. So now you perceive a romantic value in your past shortcomings. It’s not regrettable, it’s beautiful, you say. Yes, you are the hero of your own story, a story in which the protagonist is modern and complex and flawed. And you have no desire to change it.
No! Education is a lot less thrilling to someone who knows what is true.
* * *
I live with regrets. I regret, first and foremost, every wrong I have done to others, treating them as if they were less valuable or of less worth than myself (perhaps not every, but I try). Second, I regret the myriad of times I’ve failed to take and fulfill good opportunities by my own laziness, fear, or lack of clarity in what I’m doing. I think we are tempted to look at these past failings as inevitable. Whoops! I didn’t know better– couldn’t’a helped it!
But let’s be honest. Look at the challenges you’ll face and the opportunities spread before you. Are you doing your best to take them head on? I know that daily, I certainly let distractions and laziness get in the way of what’s really important to me, and I know that I have a chance to do something about these things. Sometimes I don’t take that opportunity, and I have nothing and no one to blame but myself.
So why’s the past any different?
* * *
In a news article that’s been making the social media rounds lately, one nurse who worked in palliative care records what she’s tallied up as the top five most common regrets of the dying. At first glance, they seem pretty typical, and you can probably skim to the bottom of the page without an inconvenient amount of soul-searching. Let’s see, “courage to live true to myself”, yup, yup, “most common regret of all”, OK, “most people hadn’t honored even half their dreams and had to die knowing it was due to the choices they made or didn’t make”– wait, what!?
You’re on your death bed and you didn’t do half the things you wanted? That’s downright depressing. I’m assuming we’re not talking about “I want to sail around the world on my private yacht… made of gold” sort of dreams. Nope, I think we’re talking about people who wanted to grow gardens, earn degrees, learn to ski, write letters to their friends, and, in other down-to-earth ways, push themselves beyond the drudgery of a perfectly crystalline schedule.
And they didn’t do half of those things!
This is why I am OK living with regrets, and indeed, the only reason you should have them– so that you do better next time. Indeed, if you don’t let your regrets change you for the better, what can you boast over the blissfully unreflective who death steals like a thief in the night, only to find there’s depressingly little to plunder? Realize you’ve made mistakes, and realize you can do something about it. Live the life you want. Start tonight. You haven’t always done the best, but you can do better.
Regret now so you don’t regret later.