Thoughts on Regret

In my life, I decided I have a lot of regret. For many, this might seem hard to believe because of my apparent prosperity, but it’s true. For many, this might also seem sad and unfortunate, but it’s not. In this modern age of FOMO, YOLO, liberal politics, and spontaneous freedom, it is important that we realize that there is nothing wrong with regret. In fact, I would go as far as to say that any person you hear saying, “I don’t have any regrets in my life” is a liar. They are lying to everyone around them and worst of all they are lying to themselves. I say this because regret, it its best form, is an integral part of life and existence and should therefore be embraced and used to our maximum benefit. People who say they have no regret have either lived an exceptionally boring and meaningless life (not likely), or they simply do not understand what regret is and should be. I assume many people are of the latter mindset and to them I direct my thoughts.

Allow me to illustrate. You might experience regret for saying something to someone that otherwise should have been kept to yourself. Regret is felt when you don’t take opportunities given to you, or when you take the wrong one and find yourself on the wrong path. Regret is that feeling of longing upon realizing you didn’t do your best. People feel regret for failure, miscommunication, and misunderstanding. You can regret dating someone, or not dating someone. You can regret what you did last Friday night. You can regret things you did, you can regret things you didn’t do. You can feel sorry for yourself. You get the picture. But regret, put simply, is a God-given emotion, allowed in order to effect change and growth in our lives. Without regret, we really would have no conception whatsoever about what is and what is not acceptable.

Regret is normal, inevitable, and no human being is immune from experiencing it regularly. The truth is that regret comes in either one of two forms, or in other words can be experienced or dealt with in one of two different ways. We can either view it as an opportunity for growth and learning, or we can view it bitterly. This positive regret is what propels us to change our lives, make better choices, renew, forgive, apologize, move on, be careful, and mature. The negative regret, hereafter referred to as bitter regret is what limits us, inhibits us, and ruins us. I would add that a certain grade of prideful impenitence, or being unwilling to change, is both a cause and an effect of this bitterness and it can destroy our spirits. These powerful feelings of introspection, if not dealt with properly, can destroy our abilities to make good decisions, change, and feel optimistic about life and our futures.  In fine, bitter regret is debilitating, and needs to be avoided at all cost.

I was able to discover this difference in perspective based on the regret that I have experienced in my own life. When I look back on my life, I realize that there are two types of things we can regret. The first are things that have little or no consequence in our lives, and the second are things that have serious consequence in our lives. Each person is entitled to their own definition of consequential versus non-consequential. In my life, for example, a non-consequential thing that I regret is donating an awesome orange velour lounge chair I had to a local thrift store. I loved that chair, and I can’t believe I forfeited it. That being said, having the orange chair or not has very little consequence or influence on my progression as a human being. Paradoxically, a consequential regret I have is not performing well as a student in high school. This affected my life because, as a result of my action (or in-action in this case), I did not qualify for admission or scholarships to the colleges of my choice, and thus the course my life took after high school was dramatically different from what I had hoped. That being said, my regret associated with my complacency in high school has since motivated me to change and I am very proud with where I currently am and what I have accomplished so far as a college student.

The idea is this: Regret for things of consequence in our lives needs to be used to our advantage in adjusting, healing, improving, and maturing. Regret for things of little or no consequence needs to be eliminated entirely. That is easier said than done, but makes for an excellent addition to your list of things to be mindful of in your quest to be a better person. If these two behaviors are not observed in each of our mortal characters, we risk assuming that form of bitterness alluded to earlier. Put simply, if we do not get a grip on our regrets, we will become bitter individuals and this bitterness is detrimental to our progression. I have felt this bitterness in my own life, which is why I know it is real. The solution is learning to look at those regrets of consequence and extracting every possible lesson there is to be learned and making it a point to not do those things in the future. This is one of the few fun parts of becoming an adult. The process of gaining experience and wisdom. The solution to regret for things of little consequence is laughing at yourself. This is a fundamental truth of being mortal. We are not perfect.

Regret is our friend. Regret is our right. Regret is a tool and a force in our lives. If we can recognize it and use it in the manner outlined above, we can become extraordinary human beings of influence and consequence. So next time you hear someone mention a life of no regret, you might consider these ideas. And while you’re at it, reconcile the regrets you carry in your own life. In the end, what you have done and experienced won’t matter as much as what and who you have become.

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