When you look back on your life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did. -H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
The other day, I heard a similar sentiment articulated on the radio and I wondered, am I unique in that I think this is bullshit?
For starters, I don’t believe in regrets. I mean, of course I have guilt and remorse and pain associated with certain experiences, but I recognize the futility of regret. What is done is done.
That said, if I absolutely had to look back on my life and identify the things I might regret, without fail, it would be things I did do that weigh on me. Having hurt people through words or deeds, having acted recklessly, having wasted time with the wrong people, having endangered myself or others.
I can’t pinpoint a single thing I regret not doing. Perhaps it is because I have an inherent faith that if I didn’t do it, it was for good reason, or if it was that important I’ll do it again some day or I can just use my imagination.
We live in an era of “passion” driven impulsivity. If anything, I could be accused of being too tentative, too thoughtful, too apprehensive. And I attribute these traits to learning through experience the unbearable frustration of not being able to undo what is done, not being able to reset if I feel I’ve made a wrong move.
And, of course, in reality, there are no wrong moves. But in the same vein, there is nothing wrong with not moving, with not saying yes to every opportunity if it doesn’t feel right or not being swayed by every impulse.
Is it odd that at the end of my life I would like to be regarded less as someone who did so much but more as someone who took great care to consider the impact of my actions on others? That rather than people rattling off lists of accomplishments at my funeral, they recall times where I was simply there for them? Or that I was willing to forgo opportunities to stay true to my own ethics? Or that I made sacrifices to benefit those near and dear to me?
I’m no saint. If I’ve gone too far in my life, it has always been in saying too much, or saying it wrong, wearing my heart on my sleeve, and/or putting my foot in my mouth. And, that sensation of “oh crap, why did I say that?” already passes my threshold of tolerability. “Oh crap, why did I do that?” is torture to me.
So, tell me…do you regret more what you’ve done or what you haven’t done?
This is an interesting question. I tend to think, like you, that the pop culture “go for it” mentality that lauds phrases like the one you cite are silly. Some people will feel that way; others won’t. And we none of us have a crystal ball to know if those risks we didn’t take would’ve ended dreadfully, whereas hindsight allows us to appreciate (or beat ourselves up over) those words and deeds we did undertake.
I may like the drama and romance of Edith Piaf’s “Je ne regrette rien” (I have no regrets) – which, to some degree, was warbled in the context of loving passionately. That isn’t quite the same as impulsively pursuing everything in life, but understanding that with giving your heart, you may also suffer.
Joy and pain are the hallmarks of any life fully lived; regrets, in my opinion, are the rational by-product of examining our decisions and their outcomes, and hopefully, learning from our mistakes – of omission or commission.
“I may like the drama and romance of Edith Piaf’s’ ‘Je ne regrette rien’…”
My heart skipped a beat when I read this as I had her song in my head when I thought of writing my post and I was going to title it “Je ne regrette rien” but thought that may be a bit…uh…too french.
I am a hopeless romantic. I suppose the whole notion of regrets is silly but, to avoid that word and put another way, I feel worse about those things I’ve done that sucked than what I may have missed out on.
I wonder if others feel the same or if they tend to regret (or feel bad about) “missed opportunities” etc.
And, I guess I’ve taken enough risks and made enough mistakes to be in total acceptance of not having made more! 😉