Once or twice a year I wonder how my life would be different if I had not moved away from the San Francisco Bay Area. I don’t know if all these imaginings qualify as regret. Do some aspects of leaving qualify? Are other aspects only fantasy?
I wonder what sort of career path I might have traveled. What sort of life experiences would I have had? What sort of lovers would I have met? Who would have been my friends? These questions are the normal ones we have.
The actual act of leaving entailed making and carrying out very careful, very difficult decisions. If I had not left, I would have had some very different, perhaps more troubling regrets. Even though I had to make the painful decision to leave close family and friends behind, I really had to move on. It was quite difficult to leave the beautiful Bay Area and the lovely people I shared part of my life with. However, at the tender age of 23, I needed to get on with my life. My intuition screamed that I had to go away.
There is no way that life, and our decisions are really matters of black versus white or auspicious versus inauspicious. I have not personally met anybody who has not harbored a regret at some time in her or his life. At one time, I claimed to not have had any regrets. I was only
fooling myself. My friends knew better.
I used to believe the pop psychology that denied the importance of regret. Certainly, I don’t wallow in worry over my past decisions, actions, and mistakes. I don’t push them over a cliff, either. Something that Henry David Thoreau wrote, has stayed with me through the years. “Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it ’til it come to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.”
While I still experience a twinge of regret about leaving California, I feel deep gratitude that I have lived a fulfilling life in Nebraska. I am fortunate to have done work that I have enjoyed which has also perhaps touched others in a positive way. I have forgiven and made peace with my family. If I had not moved here, I would have never met my lovers. I
have avoided the festering kind of regret I probably would have suffered had I stayed in the Bay Area.
If we’ve actually struck out and fully lived, we have sometimes gotten stuck in the past. Sometimes we have not learned from our mistakes and the misdeeds of other people. There are times we feel the tug of regret but push it away into the depths of denial. There is no need for assigning blame and self-inadequacies. What is necessary, is to
honestly admit one has a regret, resolutely face it, and finally resolve it.
Know that a regret will always play at least a small part in ones life. A resolved regret will be your ally and advisor to influence the present and future. It is wise to maintain a balanced attitude about our regrets. We don’t need to stew in regret, but we must not totally forget regret, either.
Although rationalizing our past decisions and actions is reflexive, we cheat ourselves by glossing over our regret by building up prejudices and ill will towards others as a result of our justifications and excuses. If we remember that hindsight is clearer than foresight, we can, instead, utilize regret to gain useful wisdom. It is possible to honestly understand the decisions and actions we’ve made in the past. In turn, the resulting understanding can enable us to forgive others and ourselves, more easily.
When we befriend a regret and don’t try to suppress it we begin to understand the implications of our past actions. We can deeply appreciate and feel gratitude for the lessons we can learn from them. Being honest about our regrets, enables us to clearly know how we shape our opinions and attitudes towards life situations and other people. We might even find the courage to examine and maybe adjust our most deeply held opinions and beliefs. It’s worth remembering the value of painful experiences in the broad scheme of life.
The act of admitting we have some regrets makes it possible for us to wisely mature. We learn to accept the unchangeable past. We can face unresolved sorrows with greater strength. Keeping a balanced view of regrets enables us to learn to love life as it actually occurs, not as some idealized planned concept.
We hopefully learn that life isn’t a tragedy or a comedy. We find that a balanced approach towards regret helps us understand that life is OK. Maybe life has moments of unpleasantness and boredom. Maybe we make some mistakes. Perhaps we realize that we also have moments of comfort and times of glory. Sometimes we goof and sometimes we manage to do the right thing.
If you have a regret, you have an ally and a built-in coach. Your coach will tell you to get on with life and live another day.