by - 5:54 PM

A few weeks ago, I read this article about regret and I was so moved by the very concise feelings of unshakable remorse that people hold about life changing, and maybe not so life changing, actions and choices they made in their life. What, exactly, constitutes a greatest regret? At what point is something so regrettable that one is not just sorry for the decision, but also classifies it as their biggest mistake?

I encourage you to read the article. It's fascinating how the span of a lifetime can affect one's notion of what is so abysmally regrettable that they would forfeit the life lesson just to take it back and make it never happen.

If you're six, your greatest regret can feasibly be pushing your sister and spending some time in 'time-out.' It's when you get older that things get tricky -- and so much murkier.

I wonder, if I were asked about my regrets in stages -- say once in elementary school, once in middle school, every year in high school (because, you know, transitional drama) once in college, and then maybe once as each decade passes -- what would my answers be?

I wonder if at the end of my life, they would all seem as silly as the little boy who pushed his sister. Maybe not. There are some valid regrets out there, which brings me to my next point: the current trendiness of living with no regrets.

While I think it's valuable to efficiently extract the lessons learned in poor judgement and move on, there is also value in recognizing when bad choices change your life for the worse. Not everything can be, or should be, shrugged off.  The man in the article who had an affair permanently wrecked his marriage and he has earned the right to own that regret. Yes, every decision you make brings you to the person you've become (a common rationale I hear for negating regret), but what if the person you've become is not who you wanted to be?

I struggled to think of my regrets. Not because I don't have any -- I've never adhered to that ideology -- but rather because they're not pleasant. The only fulfilling piece of regret is the part where I examine what I learned and how I've applied that to my life going forward. There are several things that I am sorry for and if given the impossible opportunity, I would certainly take back and change.

But there can only be one 'biggest regret' --

Jennifer H., 25, Michigan
I said "no." 

The day before my Opa died, my Oma called me and asked me to spend the night with them in their home. I said "no." I had to get up early for work the next day, I said. That was the truth, but if I could take that back and spend the last complete evening of his life with him, I'd wake up early forever.

If I had said "yes" and gotten in my car and forfeited just a few hours of sleep, I might have had one last conversation with him. I often wonder what we might have talked about if I had just said "yes."

Regret -- it's powerful. It's valuable to recognize and acknowledge. Know your mistakes, own them and use them to arm yourself against bad roads in the future that are just waiting there, hoping you'll stumble over them. Are there moments in the future that I could very well make the same mistake again and take for granted? Absolutely. Will this regret forever sit in the back of my mind as a deterrent? Definitely.

And that, my friends, is the power of regret. It's patient, it has nowhere to go and nowhere to be. It's happy to hang out in the back of your head for all of eternity. It never misses an opportunity to remind you that once upon a time, you screwed up and though you're free to screw up again, one regret doesn't replace the other. Rather, regret multiples, makes friends, and throws parties in your dreams.

May I suggest you really take some time to harness those regrets? Because that's when they get really valuable -- when you learn. Not when you decide to live without regrets, but when you really learn to accept them and say to yourself, that made me different.

They call that evolving. Embrace it.

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  1. I love your blog