April 22, 2021

On Regret: 8 Nuggets of Personal Wisdom that brought me Perspective.


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It’s past midnight.

The ticking sound from the old clock pollutes the purity of darkness. I gaze up sleepily, slipping into a trance—the white ceiling is my gateway to another realm.

I stand over a clay pot with two pills. One is green, and the other is white.

Choosing the green pill transports me back in time to when I was the perfect five-year-old child—free, fair, and full of promise. My adult life disappears, and I have the chance to start over.

Choosing the white pill has no effect. I remain who I am—a man stung by backbreaking responsibilities and traumas, burdened with guilt from past events and experiences. My wrinkles, bad knees, and baggage remain.

Suddenly, I regain consciousness. My cheeks are wet with tears. I take a deep breath before reflecting deeply on my vision.

I flip through a giant catalogue of memories, pondering, recalling, and reliving pain points…and I cannot help but acknowledge the shadowy presence of regret.

Regret is a damning graffiti on my conscience, spelled m.i.s.t.a.k.e.s. When I look that monstrosity in the eye, grief creeps out of the crevices and forms a dark, sad cloud over me.

Starting over is enticing. It’s an opportunity to paint over the scars on my heart that only remind me of my youthful naivety and stupidity. But our experiences are a part of who we are. They make us wiser and guide us through future life decisions. So, how do we overcome regret and tap into that well of wisdom, which is essential for growth and maturity?

I asked my friends and fellow writers on Elephant Journal to share their experiences with regret. This is what they had to say:

“Everything that has happened has brought me to where I am now. Do I have some guilt about my past? Do I wish at times things could have been different for me? Sure! Do I have grief? Immense amounts. But regrets? None. I love my life and the people in it. I believe God has a plan for my life. My job is to trust it and find solace in that fact. I choose to rest and believe versus ruminating and regret.” ~ Melissa Steussy

“There are only two things I regret: one is believing that love would take the same trajectory as everything else in life and get easier with time. I didn’t know that finding love is easiest in our late 20s and early 30s, and I regret not advantaging the opportunities of simplicity those years unknowingly afforded. The other is not becoming a jazz singer: on a stage in a vintage dress at a smoky bar.” ~ Janis Isaman

“When I’m feeling down on myself, I try to remember that I did the best that I was capable of. Sure, maybe I could have done better, been less selfish, been more thoughtful, and caused less pain. But I did the best I could in that moment, given where I was. We can’t undo what we’ve done; all we can do is try to learn from what happened and do better next time.” ~ Matthew Busse

“Sometimes I wish I could turn back the clock and become a better mother to my kids. I was so young and inexperienced, at mothering, and at life. I did the best I could with what I knew, but I see now that I could have guided them so much better. I should have taught them richer life lessons, protected their tender emotions much better than I did. Life delivers second chances, though, and now I get to practice all these ‘better ways’ with my granddaughters. I’m grateful for this.” ~ Kathy Bolte

“I have no regrets. It’s a waste of time and robs us of the present as well as our future. There may possibly be a disappointment here or there, but the wisdom gained was invaluable.” ~ Erin M. Murphy

“As a person who did not get clean until I was 40 years old, I could spend an inordinate amount of time feeling remorseful or regretful about wasting two entire decades of a life that doesn’t really go beyond seven or eight decades. But my option is either to do that or to accept the fact that everything happens for a reason, and everything that is happening at the time is supposed to be happening. And so I take the option of the latter because I can’t see any good coming from the former.” ~ Billy Manas

“I’ve always believed that regret is a wasted emotion. We have no control over the past, but the truth is regret is insight into the choices we make. When we regret, we have the opportunity to remind ourselves that our choices define us and that we should always be making them from the heart.” ~ Amanda Van Graan

“When I was in my 20s or even 30s, I used to often find myself thinking: I really wish this hadn’t happened or I wish I could do this all over again and many other such thoughts and sentiments signifying regret. But now, with age, I’ve come to realize that everything that happens in life is simply meant to happen. And if you learn from it, no experience is a mistake.” ~ Mahein Kazi

In my vision, I chose the white pill.

My life may not be perfect, but I love who I am, and who I’m becoming.

No matter how checkered my past is, I wouldn’t trade a second of it. To be the man I am today, everything had to happen exactly the way they did—all of it. Adopting a sense of gratitude and improving my self-worth through self-love and acceptance has helped me appreciate the life I have.

This mindset is inspiring a new, vibrant graffiti across my heart and conscience, spelled l.o.v.e.

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