Regret is a terrible thing, isn’t it?
It eats away at us with the constant thought of what might have been—the “if onlys” and the “what ifs.”
What might have happened? Where would I be? What could have been?
Such insidious thoughts have a way of burrowing so deep into our psyche that they unconsciously inform how we live our lives.
I used to be like this, until a phone call changed how I live my life.
Back in May of 1999, my Dad called late one afternoon. It was not unusual, since we spoke weekly. This call was different though—I could hear the anxiety and urgency in his voice from the moment he started speaking.
I paid extra close attention, because we knew any day could be his last—nine months earlier he had been diagnosed with lung cancer and wasn’t expected to make it to summer.
He wanted to talk about his last wishes. Although we’d decided on this months earlier, it was apparent he was worried about it and needed his mind put at ease.
I did my best to soothe his concerns, and he seemed happy with my reassurances. We talked a bit more, and even though I could tell he didn’t want to get off the phone, I knew he couldn’t withstand much more conversation. He said he would let me go now.
I instinctively knew this was the last conversation I would have with him.
Several seconds passed without us saying a word. I wanted desperately to tell him I loved him—that he’d been a good father—but I was afraid. I didn’t have a clue how to do it. We just didn’t express our feelings in our family, in fact, we were taught to never express any emotion.
So I said nothing—and neither did he.
The next day, I was told Dad had passed the evening before. All at once I felt a sense of relief that he was no longer in pain—but also intense regret for what was left unsaid. That determined how I chose to live my life from that point on.
We all feel regret at one time or another, and sometimes the severity of a regret is more life-altering than others.
Maybe for you it was declining the dream job across the country for the safety of a familiar home, maybe you got behind the wheel after one too many drinks with dire consequences, or maybe you were afraid to wear your heart on our sleeve for fear you’d be rejected—and then it was too late.
I’ve noticed that most people who’ve had a regretful experience fall into one of two camps—they either have the “Big Regret” and continue to accumulate more regretful experiences, as they move through their lives because they are living in fear, or—they take that “Big Regret,” and use it to propel change in their lives.
I chose the latter, because let me tell you, my “Big Regret” was the most repugnant of experiences—there was zero chance of a do-over for me.
On the other end of the stick of that negative experience was the positive—did I want to get to the end of my life and look back on the decisions I’d made with a bucketful of regrets? And, if not, what was I prepared to do about it? The choice was an easy one.
I’ve gone over that conversation with Dad 1,000 times in my head, since that afternoon—rewriting the ending each time.
How might it have gone differently? What else would have been said, if one of us was brave enough to take the first step?
You know—the “what-if’s” and “if only’s.”
But there is no point in second guessing the regretful decision after the fact. All we can ever do is move forward, with our hindsight discoveries and authentic intentions, to make a better decision the next time.
So when you get to that precipice where you find yourself asking, “Do I dare?”
Just make the leap—go for it, take that chance—jump in with your whole heart.
You’re the only one who gets to choose if you live your life with regrets—or not.
Author: Stacey Broder
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Photo: Flickr/Neal Fowler