I’m not a big fan of regret. I don’t have a regret jersey or a big regret foam finger. I don’t discuss regret in sports bars, paint my face the regret team colors or have a fantasy regret team. Hell, I couldn’t even name one player. I prefer to keep my regret on the down low. It’s a private affair between me and myself.
That being said, generally, I try not to regret what I have done, but what I haven’t done. As Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do,” so sayeth the interwebz.
There are a million phrases with that same or similar sentiment: it is better to live one day as a lion, than a thousand days as a lamb (Roman proverb), it’s better to die upon your feet than live upon your knees (Zapata), it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog (Twain), there is no try, only do (Yoda), etc. Basically, it all amounts to the same thing: stop worrying about living and just live. In the immortal words of Nike, the shoe company, not the Greek goddess: Just Do It.
But, that’s not so easy, is it? We all have moments in which we are truly aware of how short life is and what a wonderful experience it can be; brief spans where we are really living in the moment. The best moments are the ones where you realize you’re having an excellent moment while you’re having one. When that happens, you feel like a zen master; holding the reins of life firmly in your grasp, capable of accomplishing anything… and then the phone rings and that flickering, fading feeling is lost in a sea of reality.
The fact that man can even comprehend the concept of regret is pretty astounding when you come right down to it. Do you think a lion ever thinks about the fact that the gazelle he just consumed was a living, breathing creature that might have had a family? Probably not. So, that alone puts the human animal in a precarious position of actually judging our own actions as right and wrong, and proceeding accordingly. Not all humans seem to get it and some are not even capable of regret or self-reflection, but most of us are. It keeps us in line. It keeps us all from eating each other.
Like most humans, I have behavior, words and decisions that I regret. These things keep me up at night, cringing, alone in the dark as I fitfully try to sleep. The rest of the time, when I’m not so vulnerable to the machinations of my brain, I try not to let them worry me because there’s not a damn thing I can do to change any of them. It’s all too late now. So, I think of Mark Twain, Zapata, some ancient Roman dude and Yoda, and wonder what they were regretting when they thought up their quotable quotes. If you’re not dwelling on regret yourself, you can’t come up with sayings like those.
Regret is part of the properly functioning human animal. It’s completely normal and quite healthy. It’s an internal checks and balances system. It’s how we learn from our mistakes. So, when I regret something, I try to learn what I can from it and move on. It doesn’t always work, but as long as I’m thinking about it and applying what I learned to my future actions, things will be okay.