A quote I love about regrets goes as follows, “Regrets are a waste of time; things in the past crippling you in the present.” I love it, I think, because I aspire to believe it; to actualize it some day.
For now, or rather for a while, the quote about regret that has made most sense to me is, “Heartbreak is transient but regret is eternal.” It’s the one that I can honestly say is most true of my life, and of my observations and experiences in life.
Sooner or later, I overcome heartbreak, disappointment, failure, rejection, suffering, etc. This isn’t unique – the indomitable human spirit and all that. When I think of things that mere humans have overcome throughout the ages – painful grief, overwhelming failure, devastating heartache, it reminds me that we are spectacular yet ordinary.
Regret seems to take hold of the heart in a way that other states and emotions do not. Many other emotional states, however much power they may hold for a time, are dynamic. That is to say, most of us will recover from them even if we don’t want to, and even if it’s only to get into a state of numbness. Regret’s power however, is in its sense of permanence.
It makes sense when you ponder carefully how regret operates. Something happened or perhaps something didn’t happen, but whatever did or didn’t happen, there is an unceasing feeling that you could have changed the outcome. And it’s not so much that you know for sure the outcome would have changed, it’s that you will never know because of whatever choices you did or did not make.
Regret hurts, and it’s haunting. Have you ever talked to elderly people about their regrets? It’s one of the most heartbreaking encounters you might experience, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. You will leave, at the very least, feeling empowered and contemplative of how you want to live your life.
A popular contemporary book on the subject, The Top 5 Regrets Of The Dying, written by Bronnie Ware, summarizes that people on their deathbeds regret the following things: 1.) living life by other’s expectations and not being true to who they were; 2.) working too much; 3.) not expressing how they feel; 4.) losing touch with friends; 5.) not letting themselves be happier. This should give us pause. How many of us are headed down the exact same path?
I wish I could say I am too young to have regrets but unfortunately that’s not true. I don’t have too many that should cause much long-term damage or baggage, but I have a few. In the spirit of being forthcoming I’ll share some of those few.
I regret some of the people I tried to impress when I was younger. Sure, few people are sure of themselves at the beginning of their youth. But I’ve always been a person of strong convictions and I regret letting some of those wither away in the presence of people who were, looking back, not particularly kind or gracious or sincere. I regret being quietly and painfully insecure of how I look, and it being the reason for so long, I didn’t approach or reciprocate romance. I regret a few important times when I couldn’t just say, “I’m wrong, you’re right, and I’m sorry.”
Regret is a powerful thing. But it’s opposite, surprisingly, is not acceptance; it’s not simply “moving on.” I wager that the opposite of regret is courage. The courage to be the person who tries and fails, who searches and finds nothing in return, who endures with little to show but experience, and who loves and hurts.
In the end, the most powerful thing about regret, however much or little we have of it, is that it can be a great teacher. A teacher that reminds us that its permanence should serve as a reason to be courageous; to always be able to claim, “I chose, I tried.” And even after all the heartbreak and defeat and failure, to keep choosing and to keep trying.
Our alternative is to live with regret, and it is an unkind and lasting alternative. Some say we even take it to the grave. Others say we take it beyond – that it is eternal. I say, I hope we all have the courage not to find out.