These past few weeks have all been about decisions. I’ve been making some pretty big choices about the changes I want to make. It has been a slow journey, but I hope it’ll last me for life so taking my time over them is critical. I want to get it right – because if there is one thing I think we can all agree we need less of in our lives, it’s regret. Regret, to me, is like the past tense of fear. We continue to feel the anguish and pain of decisions which may not have fallen our way or things we never pursued. Regret can be crippling and – like fear – can continue to hold us back even when the moment that caused it has passed.
I’m fortunate that there is not much in life I regret, at least in the long-term. Of course, in the day-to-day I do regret things transiently. I feel mild to moderate disappointment in myself almost daily for the little things – being clumsy or snippy with people. But we all do, and we can move on from those sensations pretty quickly through distraction or the simple passing of a short space of time. But the big, full-on regrets, I think I only have one or two of these. And luckily, I can still rationalise the so-called “bad decisions” behind them, which does diffuse them somewhat. I know why I did the things I did and, given my time again, I’d probably do them again. In this way, the things I perceive as regrets are really more like the self-disappointments I mentioned previously. I believe they’ll pass in time and I’ll be able to move on. They are not regrets like people seem to experience in fiction where they have the capacity to either hold someone back for life or drive them forward to absolute change. But I’m still young, I’m sure I’ll have a few of these uber-regrets in the end.
But, while I’m looking to the future, it should go without saying that I want to limit any big scale, long-term grief. That’s probably why I worry so much now – because I’m so obsessed with getting things right so I won’t need to berate myself in the future. A bit of turmoil now might just save me a lot of heartache in the future.
Then again, that’s probably absolute bullshit. No, let me rephrase that. It is absolute bullshit. Why should I have to live my life always looking around corners thinking about what’s about to happen. I’m not suggesting I throw caution to the winds and go mad – that’s just not me – but this feeling of having to be in control all the god-damn time, well. It’s exhausting. It’s more trouble than its worth. And, ironically, it’ll probably be something I do come to regret. What a terrible contradiction. I’ll probably look back and think, “why did I waste my young years always having to worry all the time, always having to overthink everything”. To some extent, it’s my personality and it does give me an element of protection or self-preservation. But, blimey. It has also held me back. There are things I’ve never pursued for the paralysing fear of failure or rejection. Yet, as the old adage goes – nothing ventured, nothing gained.
And so that is what regrets are made of. Worse than the decisions we decide to act upon are the ones we don’t. Because these have a habit of sticking around, of taking root in our minds and making us constantly wonder – “what if?”. I am not trying to be unrealistic – I realise we’ll all end up with a few what ifs floating around in our brains, that’s human nature. But maybe we don’t need quite so many. I feel we should all respect ourselves much more in the moment, recognise that the decisions we make – even if we can’t fully explain them now – were right for us then and so must continue to be right now. That’s not to say you can never change your mind of give up (because those choices are just as correct to your present self), but maybe it’ll provide a bit of relief from the past. Because truly, we are not in absolute control of anything – that’s an impossibility. We all react to things instinctively, without thought, and – moreover – are surrounded by a chaotic world where literally anything could happen.
Some regrets are inevitable, some are necessary. But those slow-burning ones that are more than justifiable in the moment they happened? I think we would all do a bit better to limit those, to try and remove them completely because, ultimately, they are just not worth it. In truth, they probably have a sort of domino effect of holding us back even more. It’s so easy for them to compound and fit together in some sort of terrible “regret-train”. Disappointment and anguish are its cargo and it travels ever onward to a destination of despair… Let’s get off that train, it’s not going where we want to go. Let’s be more active and get onto a more positive mode of transport – let’s board the replacement bus service of self-respect and self-belief. Because I think that’ll take us all to a much happier place.