It’s a popular stance to take, an uber-cool Hollywood cliché – but I don’t buy it. Just sounds like they’re kidding themselves to me.
Ask yourself this: can you honestly say that you have never done anything that in hindsight you don’t regret?
What about when you lost it at your partner and said something really hurtful that you didn’t really mean? Or the carefree way you racked up thousands of dollars worth of credit card debt when you were overseas?
Obviously these specific scenarios might not apply to you, but surely you can see what I’m getting at right?
You can say “no regrets” but I don’t believe you.
And anyway, what’s so uncool about regret? Why do people see it as some kind of badge of honor to take this stance?
Regret Serves A Function
Personally I regret plenty. I do!
I don’t stay up late berating myself over the things I’ve done, but if I think back on some of my less glorious moments – and believe me there have been more than a few – I do feel a tinge of regret. But I think this is healthy and normal. As long as you don’t take it too far and get all hung up on the past, I think it’s okay to feel some remorse because regret serves a function.
Regret works as a warning system in our brains, an alarm that goes off whenever we ever find ourselves in a similar situation (to the past scenario that caused us to regret our actions). Regret should work like a little red flag that pops up with something like “Whoops! Look out!” printed on it in bold type to advise us to refrain from making the same mistakes twice.
I may regret this (!) but allow me to use some of my most shameful and inglorious misadventures to illustrate…
Do Unto Others
Like most teenage boys, when I was younger I found talking to attractive girls difficult.
Eventually I got the hang of it though and by the time I was 17 I got my first proper girlfriend. She was a pretty, intelligent girl who only had eyes for me. Ours was an in innocent, puppy-love that over the ensuing few years deepened into a great romantic friendship (otherwise known as real love).
But trouble brewed in paradise.
By the time I was twenty, far from being shy around pretty girls, my position as lead singer in a rock band had brought me a ridiculous level of popularity with the fairer sex. Unfortunately, due to life-inexperience and over-active pants, I soon decided it would be a great idea to break my girl’s heart by running away and having affairs with other young women (these trysts were mostly embarrassing failures too, I hasten to add, which makes the story even sadder).
After a few years of dragging my girl’s heart through hell and back (we were officially a couple for 9 years), I came home and lying in bed while she slept one night, I realised that I truly loved only her. I was ashamed of my behavior; I knew something had changed inside of me (how noble – not) and I knew I would never cheat on her again. I genuinely wanted to marry the girl and make up for my past transgressions. I decided to save for a ring, but unfortunately it was too late.
Before I knew what had happened, I heard those fateful words coming out of her mouth: “Seamus, we need to talk…”
She had despaired of me ever getting it together and had given her heart to another man. She was the kind of rock-solid person who doesn’t do such a thing lightly and I knew that once it was done, it was done.
So she married her new (very nice) man and I slunk off to lick my wounds. I decided to keep my vow never to cheat on a partner. After several romantic misadventures, I met my darling lady-friend of 8 years now (and mother of my child) and I am glad to report that all is well again in paradise.
But I still regret the bad behaviour I described above.
Sure, I understand that I was young, and that I probably had “wild oats” needed sowing, but nevertheless I feel regret that I acted in such an inconsiderate and selfish manner.
BUT the upside is that I have since leveraged off this regret and used the experience to improve my character.
I used my feelings of regret for my past actions to establish a moral framework in which to live my life. You’ll have to take my word for it I suppose, but since then I have never cheated on my partner and I never will because I know without doubt that trust between two lovers is the rock that stable, happy lives are built on. It is a sacred trust and a tragedy when abused.
Take the Long Way (Forget the Short-Cuts)
Here’s another thing I regret, but which I have leveraged to my advantage.
16 years ago when we started our band, I was a sober young fellow with quite a good head on my shoulders. I had no illusions that if I wanted success as a musician then I was going to have to devote all my energy to the task and work very hard. I knew I would have to chip away at it, pursue every single opportunity and just plain do the hard yards.
Then after a couple of years of solid effort, the band started to do well. We became a home town phenomenon and, bar financial wealth, all of the trappings that success brings (admittedly parochial, fishbowl success) were thrust our way.
Seems silly now, but I fell for these old chestnuts hook, line and sinker.
Yes, I am talking about free drugs and alcohol. (Hey, it was the ’90s! They were the upside-down ’60s!)
Besides the health ramifications, these indulgences lead to an inability to focus and work hard. Before you could say “err, hello-oow” (like Billy Crystal), the band split up and the whole soufflé deflated before our squinty, red eyes. And yes, I do partially blame the substances.
My drug and booze addled state didn’t stop there however, and while I certainly spent the rest of my twenties having an absolute ball – an gonzo adventure par excellence – I do regret making one big mistake over and over:
I kept looking for short-cuts to success.
My attention span became so short, and my capacity to be easily distracted so great, that I just bounced from one scheme to the next. I would quickly knock something together (a recording, a band, a gig, a nightclub, whatever) and expect that this would be “the one” that would bring the world clamoring to my feet again.
Then when it didn’t I would stick my tail between my legs and just give up.
Meanwhile, Fast Forward Ten Years…
Whoosh! Wow! That was a quick decade!
You know what I mean? Youth really is but a fleeting glory. It’s like one day you’re twenty and all of time just infinitely stretches out before you, and then you wake up one morning and suddenly you’re in your mid-thirties!
This October I turn 35 and, thankfully, I now know better than to look for short-cuts to success.
Now I know that if I had just done a little bit every day towards a single goal then I’d have achieved a lot more by now. So while I am very happy that I had a wild, fun, adventurous youth, I do also regret my lack of focus and commitment.
BUT that’s okay!
Now I can leverage off this regret and use the knowledge gained to change my ways. And I have; I am now very focussed on what I want and have already seen great results over the two or three years since I really pulled my head in and started to chip away towards unwavering goals in a patient and consistent manner.
And whenever I feel my focus slipping, I just call on the regret I feel for being so unfocused during the springtime of my youth. I imagine how I’m likely to feel if I turn 45 and still haven’t done squat about making my dreams come true.
So, Yes – Regrets!
I say down with all this cocky “no regrets” talk – it’s just immature posturing.
It’s okay to regret your past stuff-ups. It’s an opportunity to learn from the experience and become a better person.
What regret have you leveraged for greater personal growth?
Seamus Anthony is a musician, writer and entrepreneur who lives in the beautiful Dandenong Ranges, near Melbourne, Australia. You can check out more of his personal development writing at http://rebelzen.com
Image by *Zara