I want to talk about regret for a minute here, because I think I’ve been too afraid of it. I don’t want to worry about it anymore. I think there might be a better plan.
I hear parents saying they don’t want to regret anything about their kids’ childhoods. I hear friends say they don’t want to get to the end of their days and regret how they’ve spent their time. One woman told me she didn’t want to feel like she’d missed her calling. Another told me she didn’t want to feel like she’d missed out on her life.
Oh yes, I thought. Me too.
It seems like a life well-lived would be a life without regrets—so if I get rid of regrets, life should be good, right? But it doesn’t quite work that way.
When I look for things I might regret, I can find plenty.
I might regret not writing down more about my kids’ childhoods—or I might regret taking time away from them to do that. I might regret checking my phone—or I might regret not connecting with the friend who’s texting me. I might regret not taking more photos—or I might regret not living in the moment because I was always looking at it through a lens. I might regret spending too much time on everything, or not enough, or spending the right amount in the wrong way.
Is there a way to do it all? I think there is not.
Every minute, there are eight different things I could be doing, and at least six of them would be good options. It is very likely that I will regret doing something or not doing something or doing the right thing at the wrong time, not just at the end of my life, but at the end of today.
I might regret not being present more. Or I might regret not thinking about the future more. Or I might regret not sitting with silence more. Or I might regret not relishing the noise more. (I already regret not sitting in silence more.)
At this point in my thought process Eli, who is five, will be calling for help opening the peanut butter and Ev, who is two, will be climbing up my leg like a little monkey without a tail, and I will have to decide later about which thing not to regret.
It took me awhile to notice that spending all your time trying to avoid something creates a lot of worry. It’s choosing your actions from a place of fear, and that will just suck all the energy right out of you.
You invite yourself into the land of what if. What if this doesn’t turn out how I expect? Will I regret it then? What if this isn’t as important as I think it is? Will I regret spending time on it? What if I choose wrong?
What if I’m doing my best and it still isn’t enough?
Will I regret my choice? Should I?
We don’t know how things will turn out. For most of our decisions, we don’t know what will happen. We can’t know. But we can ask better questions.
What if, instead of asking what we’ll regret, we ask: what will I be glad to have done?
What do I want to be proud of, at the end of today or at the end of this year or at the end of this life?
Let’s stop worrying about what we might regret. Let’s spend more time thinking about what we want to create. Let’s put our time and our energy and our thoughts and our attention there.
You can make choices from a place of love, or of hope, or of wisdom. You can be brave and take good risks. You don’t have to avoid making mistakes, and you don’t always have to regret them. Mistakes are how you know you’re human, after all.
So what will you be proud of, at the end of all things? Or just in the five minutes between putting your kids to bed and accidentally falling asleep on the couch while pretending to carry on an adult conversation?
Whatever it is: do more of that today. The regret can worry about itself.