Learning from Regret

My personal list of regrets seems endless. I regret not eating an apple, instead of three (or maybe it was six) Oreos yesterday. I regret not walking the extra mile I intended to walk. I regret not writing a blog post yesterday, instead of trying to fit it in today. Then there are the big regrets. The years of being overweight, numbing out with alcohol and the two marriages and subsequent divorces. It is so easy to wallow in regret. Whether it be the humdrum, everyday food selections, or the life-altering regret of not backpacking Europe right after graduation. I bet you and I could each write a thousand regrets over a cup of coffee.

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Hindsight is 20/20 as they say. Wasn’t it obvious the Eagles would win the Super Bowl? Of course, your restaurant would fail after just 8 short months – don’t most of them? Wait until the car, jeans or coffee maker go on sale before you buy it, and then, they go out of stock forever. Duh. There is always clarity in looking back. You know you should have bought Apple or IBM or Google stock way back when it was cheap, so I could be sitting pretty for retirement. Regrets actually have lessons for us beside rumination and beating ourselves up.

Here are the learnings from regret:

Regret means that you took risks.

As Maura Hughes wrote for Elite Daily, “If you are confident in every decision you make, are you really living? Life is about pushing boundaries and trying new things, and in order to do that, you must take risks.” I think about my ill-fated restaurant ‘Coyotes’ some 20 years ago. It was an experience in being an entrepreneur and living out a lifelong dream. I took an enormous risk. It failed. But it means that I have shown up and rolled the dice. I will never own another restaurant. Ever. Don’t bother even asking. I have an everlasting appreciation for all those who have succeeded in the restaurant business. I still have a shirt with my logo on it. I have taken risks that have paid off as well like moving back to the East Coast and going for my Master’s degree after my restaurant failed. You win some and lose some, but you have to show up and engage in the game.

Regret means that you made a choice.

As Dr. Susan Perry wrote for Psychology Today, “Life demands that we put our stake in the ground, make our choice, and do our best to meet whatever actually happens. Of course, we would like a particular outcome, but we don’t need to chastise ourselves when things don’t go our way.” I have vacillated on a million choices in my life. Indecision is frustrating and makes you less decisive. For good or bad, make the decision. The choice. Often, waiting for more data is just putting off the inevitable. There is regret, regardless of the choice. Put a stake in the ground.

Regret ignites innovation.

Regrets help you think outside your comfort zone. I can remember when I closed my restaurant. I knew I had to figure out how to hold onto my house, mostly for my children; but also for the investment. Everyone told me to sell the house and get out from under it. The more folks advised me, the more I wanted to hold on. I rented out rooms. I cut my expenses. I took a second job. It ended up paying off in the long run when I sold the house to move to the East Coast. Necessity IS the mother of invention.

Regrets are the best teachers.

As Hughes writes, “When you’re challenged, feel like you failed and regret the choices you made, you are forced to return to the drawing board and figure out what went wrong. You are forced to work harder than you want and ultimately, the success is that much sweeter.” I reflect on surviving the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, I can see the lesson in rebuilding and fixing my house. I have a new appreciation of those who have suffered a loss whether it is from fire or flood or financial ruin. I also look out the window with renewed appreciation for the view outside my house. It’s taught me to take stock in what I have and to savor the moment. You never know how long you will have it.

Regrets point you in the right direction.

As Hughes writes, “If we were 100 percent sure of everything we wanted out of life, it would be much easier to live. But, it would not be nearly as much fun. Part of growing up means realizing what you want, whom you want and how you want to get things done. There are no set guidelines, so you must figure it out as you go. Every now and then, you might think you want something only to find out that you were wrong.” I have had countless regrets over consuming alcohol, whether it was saying something I regretted, spending way too much money on it, or feeling hungover. Realizing that I wanted a new direction has been priceless. I couldn’t have gotten here unless I had regrets. Regrets inform you. But it’s imperative to listen.

I think there is strength in knowing that we all have regrets. It’s a human experience that moves us forward, so long as we don’t get caught up in mulling over it. What is a regret that you have learned from?

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