Thursday, March 1, 2007

A Life WIthout Regret? No thanks.

A lot of people like to say that they live their lives without regret, and I've been thinking about that lately. I've been wondering if that is really a good idea, if its really something smart to do. They are so proud..."No regrets, baby, no regrets!" They say it like they have some kind of secret weapon for a long and prosperous life, like if I regret things then I am really wasting my time when I could be out doing something meaningful. I don't live without regret, and I think my regrets are part of what has made my life what it is. Let me explain.

To say that you live life without regret is like saying you don't make any mistakes. And saying that you don't make any mistakes is like saying you either always make good decisions or you always decide to like the decisions you made regardless of whether they are good or bad. And to say that you always make good decisions or you always decide to like your decisions, in my opinion, robs you of the opportunity to realize what could have been.

What I'm trying to say is, if you never regret anything, you never think to yourself, "I would rather have done this instead of that." And you'll never really know if you're happy or not.

I think what the "no regrets" people are really saying is that they don't want to dwell on the past, that they want to move forward and focus on the future. I agree with them, but I think ignoring the past and our regrettable decisions is a mistake. By recognizing our regrets, we allow ourselves to admit that we made a mistake, that we would do things differently if given the chance at a "do-over".

Regretting something isn't a waste of time, but what is a waste is letting that regret paralyze you in time, reliving the decision and renewing the feeling over and over. I've been letting a recent decision paralyze me in time, constantly wondering what could have happened if I had done something differently. The truth is, I'll never know. Maybe everything, maybe nothing. That's not the point. The point is that by regretting my decision, I learned something about myself and what I want out of life.

Which brings me here. Part of my regret is realizing that what I want out of life is to be part of the world, to leave some kind of legacy behind that says, "I was here." I like to talk, I like to write, and I like to think big. So instead of editorializing to my steering wheel, I am going to do it here.

Regrets? You bet. Mostly small, unimportant things that don't matter...and a few that keep me up at night. But a life without regret is kind of like a birthday cake without a spot where someone tasted the frosting with their finger. How else do you know if its any good?

1 comment:

Wes Wiles said...

This was a nice piece. I was just contemplating past regret and how it's shaped my life. It's almost a bittersweet feeling. Your analysis of the "no regrets" mentality is spot on. It's a solid approach for the future. However if you can't allow for regret as you reminisce about the past, you're doing yourself a disservice. Regret in small doses is probably a healthy part of life.