Inspired by an article in The Guardian, I am exploring the topic of regrets. Do I have any? If I so, what are they? Is regret ever worth thinking about?
I’m 43 years old, so at a guess, my life is already half over, if I am lucky enough to reach 86 (which, with accidents or unexpected illness not withstanding, is a fair estimate, judging by the ages my grandparents were when they died).
Looking back over my life so far, is there anything I would have changed? Is there anything I regret?
Firstly, what is regret? Dictionary definitions say that it is to feel sad, disappointed or repentant over something (normally something you did badly or something you didn’t do but wish you had).
Who I Am
There is something fundamentally problematic in about thinking about regret, which is this; I am not the same person now as I was in the past. Therefore, the person I am now would not necessarily make the same decisions as the person I was then.
Following this logically, I am who I am because of my past. My experiences have made me.
Having said all that, is there anything I truly regret?
There are things that I feel sad about, but these are things beyond my control, such as the deaths of loved ones. There is nothing I could have done to prevent those deaths even if I had wanted to, so there is no point feeling regret about them.
I stayed with one of my grandfathers as he lay dying in hospital, and I certainly wish I could have been there for all my grandparents in the same way, but for various reasons I couldn’t, so these cannot be truly seen as regrets.
Yes, there are some things that I feel remorse about, for example romantic relationships that didn’t work out, but if I hadn’t experienced them then I wouldn’t have learned from them. Mistakes are great teachers.
I chose the wrong degree when I went to university at 19; but at the time, I really had no idea what else to study. Knowing what I know now, I would have chosen something completely different. Is that a regret? In a way, yes it is, but at the time, what were the alternatives? My 19 year old self was simply not equipped to choose something else.
The one thing that I do regret, something that was in my power to control, is the loss of friendships. I don’t mean with friends that have died, I’m talking about the ones that are living.
I have let too many friendships fall by the wayside; sometimes through the simple processes of moving home, or by having less time to keep in touch (due to, for example, having children), and sometimes by actively deciding to end a friendship.
The death of my best friend had a large impact on this; after he died I simply gave up on the friends that weren’t there for me when I needed them most. My reasoning was this: if you can’t help me now, at the lowest point in my life, then what’s the point?
I am sorry that I didn’t explain this to them; instead I just cut them off.
Ten years on and I have reconnected with a few of them. I learned that life is too short to treat your friends badly.
Regret is a waste of time. Sometimes you can correct your mistakes, or change your behaviour, or apologise, or say the things you always wanted to say.
Take action when you can.