Living Life with Regret

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I was recently having a couple different conversations with some friends about growing up and how we would change things; decisions we made, people we were with, ways we reacted. What I found in all of them is that everyone was saying relatively the same thing- how they regret doing things the way they did. It’s a feeling that I often feel as well as I reflect on my life up to this point. Thoughts of “I wish I hadn’t gotten angry here” or “I wish I had told that girl how I truly felt about her” or “I should have tried harder in this swim race” often come into mind whenever I’m looking back. In fact, for a lot of you reading this, I can almost guarantee there’s a point in your life that you can look back on and think “Aw man. I wish I did that differently..”

My question is, what’s wrong with that?

It’s all around us; internet gurus & hype men continuously preaching “No regrets!! Live life to the fullest!” (Or “No Ragrets” if you’re Scottie P. from We’re the Millers). This idea that we need to live life with no regrets and do everything 100% the right way is, frankly, exhausting. Even more, it puts this expectation on life that once you figure yourself out, you’ll never experience a regret ever again in your life. 

My friends, excuse my French, but that’s complete bullshit. 

What’s so taboo about embracing regret as opposed to fearing it? Let me tell you one thing because clearly the vast majority of social media won’t: your life won’t ever be 100% perfect. I’m not saying that to give you tough love or to try and make life seem miserable, it’s just the truth. Everyone in life goes through little bumps in the road, makes a wrong turn somewhere, does something they wish they hadn’t or reacts some way they wish they could change. But, instead of fearing it and drowning in misery when those times do come, why not look at it as a learning experience and embrace the incident?

I can say with confidence that if I had a dollar for every situation in my life that I look back at now and think “I wish I did that differently”, I wouldn’t need to work another day for the rest of my life. And for a long time, I used to wallow in these regrets and HATE myself for them. “Why can’t you do anything right?” I would often think to myself, “Why do you always mess things up?” These thoughts always made my depression worsen, and it got to a point where I wasn’t even excited to do anything anymore; What’s the point if I’m just going to screw it all up again?

The switch in mentality happened when I talked to my most recent therapist about this. I won’t give you all the advice she gave me, but the one piece that stuck with me about this topic is the need to LEARN from these moments in life. Those regrets in life that our society tells you to fear and to try and steer clear from should be a learning curve; they should be seen as an opportunity to grow. Instead of wallowing in anger and embarrassment from the situations in your life that you could’ve avoided or done differently, try looking at them and thinking “Why did that happen the way it did? What can be done later to make sure that doesn’t happen again?”. In school they teach you the saying “If we don’t learn from history, we are destined to repeat it”. Why can’t the same saying be used for any regrets you have in life? 

I’ll give you one little example where I applied this mentality that changed my outlook on life completely. I mention my previous relationships a lot in my posts and videos and discussions simply because if anything, they were the biggest learning experiences for me. Looking back, there were a lot of times where I was a complete jerk; I would be selfish, want things to go my way, would let my depression and anxiety essentially overtake who I was as a human being. In doing so, I unknowingly pushed my partner’s feelings to the side and made life that much harder for them. A lot of the time I would depend on them for happiness and would use them as a crutch; something that puts WAY too much pressure on one person. For a long time, once I realized the things I was doing when the relationship had ended, I hated myself for it and would just repeat the same thing over and over again “you don’t deserve love if you act like that. You should have done this whole thing differently.”

With this new learning mentality, instead of looking at these experiences as a huge regret of mine that would ultimately make me hate myself for the rest of my life, it gives me an opportunity to grow as a person. “Yeah, I was a huge jerk in these situations because I was selfish and expected my partner to provide me with happiness.” Okay, but why was I so dependent and selfish? What got me to that point? How can I work on myself to ensure that I don’t do that ever again? Having these thoughts as opposed to resorting to mentally bashing myself has gotten me a long way and, frankly, is a huge reason as to why I’m truly starting to feel comfortable with who I am as a person. 

So, for anyone reading this who may be beating themselves up for something that happened years ago, polluting their mind with thoughts like “You idiot, you should have done it this way”, take a minute and reflect on the situations. Instead of fearing regret, embrace the learning opportunity. Accept the situation, analyze it and learn from it; you’ll live much happier and grow a lot as a person because of it.