Real Simple Magazine is having an essay contest, asking readers to write about their biggest regrets in life. This got me thinking about the subject in some depth. I know that it’s a popular view to believe in “no regrets” – that it is what it is, and you wouldn’t be the person you are now without the mistakes you’ve made in the past. In and of itself this is true. However that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look back and evaluate. That you can’t have insight into your past and weigh it against what you know now.
My biggest regret is made up of a thousand tiny regrets, a thousand tiny choices I made as a child and adolescent, to not try new things, to not try hard enough. I look back and see the experiences I missed, the things I could have done that would have made me happy, or more well-rounded, or more involved with life. I missed so many opportunities because I let fear hold me back. I wish I had stayed with dance as I grew up. I took ballet for six years, and was about to start pointe. And then I quit. I was bored and lazy and didn’t know to try another form. I wish I had tried out for basketball and volleyball, but out of fear I didn’t. I refused to take piano lessons as a kid. My parents tried to tell me I’d regret it, but I was sure they knew nothing. I, on the other hand, knew that Who’s The Boss reruns were totally essential. Good thing I listened to me.
When you’re a kid, you don’t take the long view. You take the right now view of things. I looked ahead a day or two and saw the fun I wanted to have, or the boring things I wanted to avoid. I didn’t want braces because in the short run it would be ugly. Now I wish I had put up with metal mouth for a year or two to have straight teeth forever. In the long run, that’s a pretty good deal. So many little regrets, when added up, equal one big wish-I-woulda. One big life lesson: take the long view. I’m not sure I could have done that as a kid, but maybe?
My seven year old son, Luke, and I share many of the same fears. Trying new things, especially things that go really fast, is at the top of the list. We talk about our fears sometimes – what they are and how to tackle them; he knows this is going to be one of his challenges in life.
Last summer we made a trip to Silver Dollar City. He was scared to go on the ubiquitous log ride, so I made him a deal. If he would ride that, I’d ride the biggest roller coaster they had. And he’d get a treat. He rode it, saying “I hate this, I hate this, I hate this” the whole time. He got Dippin’ Dots for his act of bravery. I went on Wildfire with five loop-de-loops and got a stomach ache for an hour. But he saw me taking on something new and scary (I hid the sick feeling afterward) and he later told me he was glad he tried the American Plunge. “Next time I bet I won’t be as scared of it,” he said with hope in his voice. We worked on our fear together, as a team. Because I regret mine and I’d like to help him overcome his. It’s that simple. He doesn’t see the long view, but I do now. I’m trying to give him a glimpse.
As an adult I decided to try modern dance. But my body wasn’t as bendy as before. I’d had a baby, my balance was wonky, and I could only go once a week. By the time I realized life is short, it was too late. A professional dancer I would never be, but I enjoyed my class for what it was – a chance to do something I loved while I was still able. I played basketball as a grown up, too. On a team of women of all ages with all sorts of reasons for playing. Again, I wasn’t amazing, but I felt the adrenaline of blocking a shot. In. Your. Face.
I had learned my lesson. I took the long view.
Regret is a gift. Wishing you could take back the insult, the lost opportunity, the time you threw up in your shoe after a high school party (I admit nothing) spurs you on to better things. But you can’t stay there. It does no good to sit and wallow in the mistakes you’ve made. Regret is a teacher; It is a useful tool, but it is not a way of living. The wisdom that it gives brings promise for tomorrow, if you can use it for your good and for others’. That’s the blessing of regret. The hope in the middle of the sadness. So until the long view is no longer possible, I’ll be looking back, taking stock, and being thankful for second chances.