The value of regret

Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets. 

― Arthur Miller

Regrets: I have them. We all do, I guess. We’re not supposed to, I’m told. You should never have regrets … but never seems quite strong a viewpoint to have. I think there’s some value in regret. 

Regrets are delusive things, they change according to how and when you look at them. You can regret something one moment, be grateful for it the next. The best thing you could ever imagine for yourself can happen and you can’t believe your good fortune, then you find yourself wishing it had never happened at all.

A lot, if not all, of the things I regretted soon after an event I am now thankful for. They revealled something. They created something. They meant something happened in my life that wouldn’t have otherwise.

A few years ago, I left a job for what seemed a much better job. It was a bit less money but the company was bigger and the role was in the department I wanted to work in. At the job I was previously in, I hadn’t been allowed to work in my desired field, despite a number of promises, which continued to get pushed back or changed, then ultimately denied. This was down to the manager who was not living life as her best self (to put it politely).

A few months after I started, I realise my new job wasn’t what I’d hoped it would be. After speaking with friends from my old work, I discovered the manager had left and now things were great. Everyone who still worked there commented on how they’d been allowed to transfer to different departments, allowed to work on interesting new projects, and had received pay rises.

I felt like I’d made a big mistake by leaving and regretted my decision. Every day when I went to my new office, not looking forward to the day ahead, I would think about my old work and wonder what things were like, how good life could have been if I’d just stuck it out.

I felt this way for months, berating myself about how stupid I’d been. I eventually left that job and found one that made me much happier. Still, I always regretted those months which seemed to have been a waste of time.

I was too focussed on the negative though. I didn’t think about what that job did give me. The company ran a mentoring program for young kids from troubled backgrounds. In the hope of spending less time in the office (and yes I’m ashamed to say that was my primary reason) I signed up and was assigned to a beautiful little girl who I have come to love dearly, who brings so much joy and laughter to my life.

If I hadn’t taken that job, I never would have met her. And I am so grateful to have her in my life. That job, the one I hated, the one I spent so long regretting, is one of the best things that ever happened to me for precisely this reason: It gave me her.

Of course, there are things I regret now which I didn’t regret at the time. I regret not spending more time with my grandfather when he was alive. I was a teenager and it was uncool to go over to granddad’s house after school when I could be going to the cinema with my friends.

I’ve learned from this though. I make time for my family, even if it’s not always convenient, even if I find out there’s a super cool party I was invited to. I know the price of missing that time with the people I love, and I know the price of missing that party – they don’t compare.

I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t avoid regret. Don’t hope to get every decision ‘right’. Regret things, lots of things, then learn from them and make those regrets something to be thankful for. Don’t wallow in them, don’t be held back by them. Embrace them as great moments that have helped you move forward in life, to grow and become better.

Make them part of your experience to creating a great life.

Is there anything you regret? Has something you regret ended up benefitting you in some way?

[Photo credit: A painting called “Regret” by Cyn McCurry]
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5 thoughts on “The value of regret

  1. Regret, I would say, is very healthy in that it helps you to evaluate your choices and decisions in life. It becomes unhealthy when you adopt an attitude self-battering for mistakes or omissions. But if you tell yourself this is where I am, what has happened, so as I learn my lessons I am focused on making it a stepping stone for better things ahead or leaving it (the regrettable situation) in the past where it belongs.

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  2. I couldn’t agree more. Regrets are pinned to points in your life where you learned something, or when you made a decision based on the incomplete information you have to work with. I definitely have regrets, but I try not to let myself *feel bad* about them. I just think, “I did the best I could. How could I have known?” I think it’s silly to tell people to live without regrets, because that is literally just telling people not to have feelings and thoughts about their past.

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