I’ve wanted to write about regret for a while now, but I’ve always felt unsure of how to approach it.
Sure, there are things I’ve done or said that I regret, moments in time that I feel badly about. But one of the most important things I’ve come to realize as an adult is that I don’t regret those moments in the sense that I want to take them back. I may have been embarrassed or humiliated at the time, but I’ve come to understand how important those regretful moments were to the person that I am now.
In her TedTalk, “Don’t Regret Regret” Kathryn Schultz said, “Regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly. It reminds us that we know we can do better.”
I haven’t always made the right decisions in the past. I’ve hurt people’s feelings, I’ve cheated myself out of friendships, and just generally messed up a lot. In truth, I still mess up a lot and I probably won’t ever stop finding newer and more creative ways to do it. I might not take the right job, I might date the wrong person, I might say something that I don’t mean. There are myriads of ways to screw up and I’ll never have all the answers necessary to a mistake free life. No one will.
But as Schultz goes on to say, “The point isn’t to live without any regrets. The point is to not hate ourselves for having them.”
We have to love ourselves for who we are. We have to learn to live with every piece of baggage, every piece of history, and every experience; it’s what lays the foundation of our character and our future, it’s what helps us make choices down the road. And that ability to form regrets, to feel remorse, can only help us as we navigate the continuous and constant uncertainty of the future. Those fixed emotions teach us the cause and effect of our actions, serve as guidelines for our lives. Without them, we’d have no sense of conscience.
People say you should strive to live a life free of regrets, that lamenting the past is a waste of time. But I think that to live a life without regrets would shut me down emotionally. If I didn’t feel pain when things went wrong, how would I understand the consequences of my actions? If I didn’t listen to the warning bells in my head, how would I ever have known that I needed to change, to learn, to grow as a person?
I don’t want to rewrite the past. I don’t want to erase the things that I regret. Instead I want to learn from those moments, grow from those moments, and live my life understanding that I am who I am today because I was affected by and continue to feel the pain of those regrets. Without them, I just wouldn’t be myself.