18 June 2013

7 – Why I Don’t Regret Anything

We've all heard someone say "if I had my time back, I would've done it different." We've probably all said it many times. I'll be the first to admit I have.

What we're really saying is that we regret something. There's no shame in that. It's a natural human emotion, and means we had a strong emotional investment in the decision or choice we made. Nothing wrong with that either. 

We all struggle with regret. I know I do. But we don't have to become prisoner to it.

I'm 32. From time to time I've felt disappointed about what I've done with my life. Sometimes I've felt like I've accomplished little. I'll spare you the details because you've probably got myriad concerns of your own. 

Questions start floating around in my head like black flies that keep coming back no matter how much you swat them away: 'why didn't I just do engineering?' 'Why didn't keep working as a baker?' 'Why couldn't I just finish my PhD?' 'Why didn't I ask that girl for her phone number that time?' Why didn't, why didn't I, why didn't . . . . We can finish the sentence any number of ways, but the core message remains the same.

In asking ourselves 'Why didn't I do things differently?' we're really saying 'I made a mistake and would do anything to take it back.' When we're vulnerable like this the regret scares us into believing that our choices were completely WRONG and that the alternative would have been completely RIGHT. Suddenly the road we chose not to travel looks a lot better (painted lanes, wider shoulders and filled-in potholes I suppose). We convince ourselves that it has to be. If our reality is disappointing, the alternative has to be better, right?

Thinking like this is wrong. I don't know about you, but I haven't figured out time travel yet (though if you ever see a Flux-Capacitor for sale on E-Bay or Kijiji, let me know). We have no way of knowing how things might've been different. And we never will. Things could've been better. True. But, they could just as easily have turned out much worse. But once again, we'll never know so there's no point worrying about it.

And instead of letting regret cause us to fret what we may have lost or missed out on, we should remind ourselves of what we've gained by our choices. And if you stop and think about it you'll come up with a good-sized list.

I never became an engineer. Or a baker. Or a professor. So what? I'm glad I chose the roads I did. They've allowed me to visit some interesting places and to do some pretty cool and memorable things. I found out what I really like to do (I probably wouldn't have finished a draft of my first novel otherwise). Most importantly, I found great friends along the way. And I wouldn't trade that for anything. 

It's not about making the right decisions. It's about making the most of the decisions you do make. 

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