Rethinking Regret

Black and white profile photo of the author sitting on a porch in Kauai
Photo by E.

This week, Hidden Brain, one of my favorite podcasts-slash-public-radio-programs, explored the topic of regret with a researcher and head of an academic “regret lab.”  The program discussed the various positive and negative consequences of regret.

I think I’ve reached a point in my life when I’m able to put most of my regrets to rest.  Yes, there are opportunities I missed, chances I wish I’d taken, different paths I could have chosen, and times I acted selfishly or treated others poorly.  The last category is, of course, the hardest to get over, because it’s regret combined with guilt.  But we can’t undo what we’ve done in the past, and at some point we have to forgive ourselves and commit to behaving better in the future, now that we know better.

As for regrets about the roads not taken, the fact is that there are an infinite number of twists and turns my life theoretically could have taken up to this point, but the choices I made led me to where I am today, and I’m pretty happy with this place.  The consequences of my decisions have been great teachers.  In life as in startups, there is something to be said for failing early and failing often, as long as you can pick up the pieces and learn from your mistakes.  (If you find yourself ruminating on past decisions, unable to let them go, you may want to see a professional counselor who can help you learn to reframe your experiences and move forward.)

My current attitude toward my past is shaped by the fact that this summer has been a real turning point in my life.  With the death of my father and the conception of my future son, it’s as though one book of my life has closed and another has opened.  My childhood and extended adolescence have ended for good, and it’s time for me to step into the role of parent.  I wish my dad could be here as I raise my son, but it’s my turn to take the love that he gave to me and give it to my child.  I’m too focused on the newness of the present and the excitement of what’s to come to be hung up on regrets at this moment.  These days, I reflect on the past and smile; I don’t get stuck in it.  To borrow the words of C.S. Lewis, “There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”

What are your biggest regrets, and how do you deal with them?  Are you able to learn from them, or do you find that they hold you back?

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PS: Regular readers may hove noticed that I did not post a Quote of the Week this week.  I had started to work on the post, but I became quite sick early in the week.  Rather than posting a quote on Wednesday, I decided to save it for next week.  So don’t despair; I haven’t done away with this weekly feature.  It will return on Monday!

One thought on “Rethinking Regret

  1. “…the choices I made led me to where I am today…” How true. How could I actually regret anything that brought me to this moment in time? Not being more fair with my mom as an adult, staying late at work rather than spending more time with my children and my wife, not having the hard conversations with peers, subordinates, and leaders that make everyone better in the long run, not reaching out to that friend when I saw something out of the ordinary, the list goes on. They are all learning experiences. Allow them to influence your future decisions without dwelling on them.

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