silhouette of woman sitting on beach during sunset

The Futility Of Regret

When we’re kids, time moves slowly because we’re absorbing the wonders of the world one jaw-dropping miracle at a time. That’s why a year can feel like an eternity. Every sensation is brand new, and our only job is to marvel at them one by one. And then without warning, we make the quiet transition from childhood to adulthood, and time starts sprinting.

It seems like just yesterday I was an angsty teenager hoping to find herself in one of her many moon phases. Now, as 30 shadows over me, I find myself thinking how right all those adults were who told me time moves quicker than any of us can keep pace with. I find myself thinking if 30 years can pass by that fast, imagine how fast another 30 will.

Sometimes I like to have a heart-to-heart with my present self and ask her about all the things I’m thankful to have done when I was in my teens and early twenties. And of course, I like to ask her about all the things I wish I hadn’t done. This leads me to consider what my future self, looking back on the current me, will think. Will she wish I drank less chardonnay and more water? Will she wish I bought fewer plane tickets and paid off my student debt? Will she wish I spent less time cooped up indoors writing heart melodies in my journal and spent more time building connections with real-life humans? Perhaps what she’ll really wish is for me to stop fussing so much about what my future self will think in the first place and instead be more present.

There’s no way to know for sure what our future selves will think. The fact of the matter is, we’re doing the best we can in the only relevant time period — now. We’re splattering the walls with the many colors of our mistakes and then learning from them. We’re falling in love, falling apart, and then putting ourselves back together again. These lessons never leave our side, they follow us in every phase, every birthday, until we no longer exist. At least, that’s what I’m forecasting.

Maybe our older selves will wish we’d started saving for retirement sooner, had less meaningless flings, or cut carbs out from our diet. Maybe our older selves will be tired of having to suffer the consequence of reliving the mayhem of our same old mistakes. Or maybe our older selves will be beaming with pride, since we lived exactly the way we wanted to in the moment. We may not have a perfect record of moral behavior. We may not have every cent saved up in our bank accounts or have the healthiest liver. But in the end, we lived in the only way we knew how to make ourselves happy at the time. And how can anyone have regrets over trying to be happy?

It’s difficult to look back in hindsight without judgment. It can be just as difficult not to label our younger selves as reckless fools. But maybe it was all meant to happen exactly the way it did. And maybe as we approach 30, we are meant to feel a hybrid of lost and confused and probably a little behind. I imagine 40 will bring a certain degree of wisdom, but maybe not as much as we predicted it would. And maybe 50 is when we finally realize how much time we squandered stressing about the things we couldn’t control. Or does that realization not happen until much later in life, in our 80s perhaps, when it’s too late?

About the author
Fluent storyteller, memoirist and lover of prose poetry Follow Valerie on Instagram or read more articles from Valerie on Thought Catalog.

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