This post will be little different, but in a good way. The purpose of this post is to acknowledge regrets, learn from them and maybe have a little fun along the way. Dwelling on your regrets is morose. I’d hope that maybe, just maybe, a reader might possibly learn from my mistakes but if I’ve learned one thing thus far in my 5+ decades on this mortal coil, it’s that most people have to learn life’s lessons the hard way.
First, a quick definition. For the purpose of this posting, a regret can be characterized as an incorrect reaction to a stimulus, situation or a combination of a two. You made the wrong decision, and the outcome was unpleasant. Cleary, a regret sparks a retractive wish to have done things differently.
Anywho, this will be just a quick list of regrets with, in some cases, a brief explanation. We’re all different and thus we’ll have a unique set of regrets. What’s interesting is how, in retrospect, is the inter-relationship between some regrets. Bad decision making in one aspect of your life can, it seems, engender bad decision making in other areas.
Without any further ado, below are my own personal list of regrets:
- Caring too much what other people think of me: There is a clear evolutionary component to this behavior given our recent hunter/gatherer past. And it certainly helps children and younger adolescents learn and adapt to the values of their culture. There is a well-documented dark side to this instinctual reaction, so I won’t go into it here. I will say, however, that one of the joys of growing older is ceasing to give a shit about what most people, and above all, strangers, think. It’s very liberating, like taking off a heavy weight vest when you’re halfway through a marathon.
- Being afraid to receive (or give) feedback: See above. When I was young I was so afraid of what other people thought that receiving honest feedback was painful and to be avoided at all costs. I guess I felt that bad feedback meant I was some sort of irredeemable loser. This reaction doesn’t take into account that if the feedback is not good, you can change your actions to get a better result. Also there is a huge difference between the snippy comments from insecure assholes and feedback from people who care about you. I was also afraid to give honest feedback as I was afraid it spark an argument or make the person dislike me. Once you realize that giving honest, constructive feedback is sign of caring and respect, you can do it even if you know the person might not like it in the moment. Knowing that makes it makes it easier to receive feedback as well. Bad feedback will not make your soul shrivel up and blow away in a cloud of dust. Take the lesson, and move on.
- How I handled adolescence: I know what you’re thinking, this a universal one. And, really, it’s nobody’s fault, least of all the adolescent. I can’t regret my consequential actions because I didn’t have roadmap or any useful experience to draw upon. I did have family that cared about me but, in time-honored teenager tradition, I ignored or was incapable of listening to any of their advice. What I do regret, I guess, was the lack of a mentor to keep out of the majority of literal and figurative car crashes I experienced. I was a nice, intelligent but painfully shy and insecure kid who, seemingly overnight, was suddenly injected with enough testosterone to choke a bull elephant. Nature has a hell of a sense of humor. In many ways, this is a root cause of some further regrets.
- Trashing my high school educational career: Hands down the dumbest and most short-sighted thing I’ve ever done. Why take the easier road? Let’s ignore tons of great advice so you can make the next 15 years of your life much harder than that of your peers. I went from pretty good grades and the respect of my teachers to very barely graduating from high school. How and why, you ask? Because I had other fish to fry…
- Handling adolescence, part II: My family might some day read this post so I want to handle this subject as tastefully as possible. Suffice it say I could only concentrate on one thing, to the exclusion of anything else. Hobbies, sports and school work just couldn’t compete. Look, it wasn’t my fault and it wasn’t funny. It would have been great to think clearly at that time, but, yeah, it was impossible. I was laser-focused on, umm, encountering the opposite sex in spite of my natural shyness and insecurity. What is miraculous is that I eventually had some limited success. However, like any true junky, it wasn’t enough. Maybe I shouldn’t regret how I reacted during this time as I my brain had no say in the matter. Also, silver lining, I did come out of my introverted shell a bit, so there’s that. However, I do regret not having somebody pull me aside and say, hey, a more successful strategy to attracting a mate is to perfect yourself. Become really good at the things that interest you and you will be attractive. Cultivate yourself, have something to offer and it will pay dividends in your life, period. I think I would have followed that advice, if only for the basest of reasons at that point.
- Drinking: Man, do I regret the hell out this one. We all know people are good at drinking, who can really handle their alcohol. They either can take or leave booze, or when they do imbibe they are better at controlling their actions. They rarely, if ever, get blind drunk or do stupid things. I was not one of these people. Booze temporarily stopped the relentless chattering of the anxiety monkey in my head so, for longest time, that was all I needed to know. It helped me ignore that booze created far more problems in my life than it ever temporarily resolved. I can’t get back the years of growth I missed whilst getting pissed, but it’s never too late to get on the right path.
- Lying: I’ve told my fair share of lies in the past as have most of you. It has never, not once, ended well. Lying is corrosive to your integrity, feeling of self-worth and ultimately your reputation. Also, practically speaking, it’s impossible to keep track of one’s lies. Like the possibly fake Mexican-indigenous shaman said, “Own your word”. This includes being clear in your communication. Intentional lack of clarity is the little brother of lying. Integrity is a super power.
- Relationships: Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. I regret staying in relationships that lacked respect and honesty. I wasn’t always the aggrieved party, either. Life is messy and sometimes you’ll not act as you should. I regret not focusing on excellence and personal growth so I’d have had the self-esteem to reject unacceptable behavior from others as well as myself. I also regret, when I was younger, thinking that certain relationships were a means to end. That the relationship would give me some sort of validation that my ego/psyche felt was important at the time. The only workable model is to make your own happiness and then share it with that other person. Ideally, they are capable of reciprocating. The other person will not magically solve your problems nor are they the cause of all of them. I also regret not successfully avoiding some partners whose actions belied this belief. Luckily, with experience comes a little wisdom and as you get older you finally realize that action does speak louder than words.
- Not practicing self-maintenance: If I had read this even a year ago, I would have thought that is was new-agey woo-woo bullshit. It’s not. Nor is it some selfish, infantile excuse to spoil oneself. It’s simple, if you saw a way to improve your child’s mental or physical well-being, you’d do it without thinking. You change the oil and tires on your car. And yet we allow ourselves to “run down” till we become tired, 1 dimensional versions of our former selves. I did this for years, focusing only on my kids and work (purely to ensure financial security). As a result I dulled mentally and physically, which ultimately wasn’t good for my family, the quality of my work or my well-being. Self-maintenance is therefore the responsible thing to do. If you don’t do it now, proactively, you will (mark my words) learn it’s importance the hard way.