I never regret anything. Because every little detail of your life is what made you into who you are in the end. ~ Drew Barrymore
Not surprisingly, in the midst of such a huge upheaval of life, I’ve been thinking a lot about the future, what I will do, where I will be, who I will be. I’ve also been thinking about all the things I used to dream about, what I used to tell myself, the person I thought I was and wanted to be, how I envisioned my life unfolding, what was important to me, what I wanted for myself out of this life I’m in. So many things start rising to the surface; I suppose this is a normal part of such a giant life change.
One thing I can remember writing and thinking about when I was younger, over and over again, was how I wanted to live my life so I would have no regrets at the end of it. I wanted to see everything, experience everything, go everywhere. I wanted to be a shriveled old woman lying in my bed, thinking back on my full life with joy and satisfaction. I didn’t want to be laying there with regrets about roads not taken, choices not made, things not experienced. Now in “middle age” (my age may tell me that’s where I am, but my soul disagrees), I’ve realized it’s an impossible feat to have no regrets at all, but it’s probably not even the best plan for one’s life.
Regret is defined as “a feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done.” In that respect, it’s impossible to not have regrets. Each of us will always regret something we’ve done or said. We’ll be disappointed in ourselves for hurting someone else, for doing something thoughtless, for not being the best parent or partner or friend. It’s human nature to be imperfect, so these sorts of regrets are inevitable. All we can do is our best to minimize the times we do or say something we’ll regret later. For me, this is “interactive” regret – how we interact with other people.
It’s not the “experiential” regret I wrote and thought about so much when I was younger. It’s not the kind of regret I’ve been struggling with for so many years, even perhaps up until this past weekend.
The kind of regret I’ve spent so much time pondering over the course of my life is the regret attached to not living life to the fullest, not experiencing – doing-going-seeing – everything I possibly could. I didn’t want to get to the end of this life and find myself regretting the chances I didn’t take, the opportunities I didn’t reach for, the doors I missed opening because I was banging against the closed one I thought I wanted. I wanted to be an adventurer and a risk-taker. I’ve always felt like I was neither, and that’s been a regret I’ve held within my soul for a very long time.
I didn’t take the chance to do that semester abroad in college. I didn’t quit my job and go back to school to get a Masters degree. I didn’t move to London for a year like I thought about doing, just for the heck of it. I didn’t move to Scotland like I dreamed about doing – moving there, getting a degree in Art History or English Literature, staying there on a student visa for a while. I didn’t take a year off between college and “real life” to travel and go on adventures and see the world. I didn’t go to art school. So many things I didn’t do, and I feel like I’ve allowed myself to be buried under these regrets for years.
BUT (and these are some big BUTS).
What’s keeping me from doing any of the above things now, or later? Just because I didn’t do any or all of the above things when I was younger doesn’t mean I can’t at some point, if I want to. Right?
And, the biggest BUT of all: do I regret coming to this point in my life, not having done all the things I thought about doing when I was younger? Do I regret not going to the more prestigious high school my parents originally wanted me to attend, which might have led to a more prestigious college, and potentially greater opportunities related to that? Do I regret spending so many years in a career I didn’t really enjoy? Do I regret feeling that perhaps I married the wrong person (as I’ve been told I did by that very person)? Do I regret spending all this time in a marriage that was so rocky, so up and down and fraught with fighting and hurt and disappointment on both sides? Do I regret that my life partner wasn’t what I’d dreamed of – a soul mate, with all the attached ideals of intimate connection, acceptance, celebration? Do I regret not having a nanny so I could stay in my career (which I didn’t actually like, but I was good at it), make more money and perhaps now have a substantial retirement fund that would allow me to not have to continue to work to support myself? Do I regret the chances and opportunities I didn’t take when I was younger because I wasn’t brave enough to take the risks?
No. I really, truly can’t regret any of it. And this is absolutely because of three big aspects of my life:
First, and most importantly, I can’t regret any of what’s come before because I would not have the amazing children I have, who astound me every day with the incredible people they’ve become. They wouldn’t be who they are had I not stayed married and kept our family together. And if I hadn’t married the person I did, they wouldn’t even be here. Sure, I might have had other children that I would love, but I wouldn’t have THESE children. And they are so very special I’m truly dumbfounded sometimes that they came from me. They humble me with their awesomeness. Their existence is something I would never, ever change, not even in one tiny way.
Second, I would not be the person I’ve become, and I’m really quite okay with who I’ve become (except perhaps for the extra weight I’m carrying around at the moment ;-), but I’m working on that).
Third, I wouldn’t have the amazing friends I have. Each decision, from one of the earliest my parents allowed me to make, which was the high school I attended, has brought me the richest, and most wonderful friends. And I feel so lucky, because I have friends from each different phase of my life – high school, career, post-career, local. Again, I’m sure I’d have other friends if I’d made different decisions, but I wouldn’t have the friends I do. And I wouldn’t trade any of them.
So, when it boils down to the basics, I wouldn’t change any past decision, because each decision I made (even the non-decisions made by NOT deciding) brought me to this place, these children, who I am, the people I cherish, and the future before me.
Here’s the thing about “experiential” regrets. Unless you absolutely hate every single thing about your life now, it’s pointless to regret past decisions or directions. Because every decision, every fork in the road, has brought you to where you are now, with what you have now, in every facet of your life. Who knows the snowball effect even one different decision, no matter how small or inconsequential, might have made to where we each find ourselves now. It’s totally like “Back to the Future” and all the time travel movies and stories, where one small change made in the past changes everything that comes after.
For me, this has been truly liberating and a major shift in my attitude – for the better. Because it’s freed me from my past, freed me from obsessing (which I tend to do) about so many of the “what ifs” of past decisions. It’s freed me from spending too much time thinking about all the other “people” I might have become – had I moved to London, or taken a year abroad, … WHATEVER … it just doesn’t matter. Because if there’s even one thing I wouldn’t want to change about now (and clearly for me there’s more than one), then there’s NOTHING I could have changed, because every single step and decision, no matter how small, has brought me to where I am, who I am, and what I have now.
It’s that simple.
All there is is moving forward. Isn’t that beautiful?