Monday, 30 June 2008

No regrets

Some people are weighed down with regrets about their life. They shouldn't have done this or that, they should have had a different job, a different man, a different personality.

But I can honestly say I've never regretted anything in my life. It's taken strange twists and turns, some fortunate and some less fortunate, some happy and some miserable, but all in all my life has turned out well and I can't recall anything so disastrous I would want to rewrite it.

It must be heartbreaking to have serious regrets, to believe that some fatal decision you made decades ago has ruined your life, and to wish fervently that you could go back and do something quite different.

It amuses me sometimes to imagine parallel scenarios, how my life might have turned out if I'd made other choices or been another sort of person. Suppose I'd been a woman, or been more self-confident or gregarious or virile or gifted.

Yes, my life would have been rearranged. But I'm not convinced it would have been more rewarding or more enjoyable. The grass is not always greener on the other side.

Maybe I'm just very lucky. I've never known anything so catastrophic that I've desperately wanted to undo it. I've never caused anyone's death. I've never lost a child. I've never been tortured or raped. Whatever's happened to me has always been reversible or repairable.

Like anyone else, I've had plenty of negative experiences. I've been jilted, betrayed, ostracised, humiliated. But I've always bounced back, always learnt something, always moved forward to new joys and new achievements. So what's to regret?


  1. People sometimes say they regret doing this or that, or regret not doing this or that. But if they were to go back they'd probably do the same thing again, because there's always a reason why we choose the things we do. Not having regrets means not forgetting the reasons why we made the decisions we did, without the benefit of hindsight and in the circumstances of that time.

    Very good point about never having caused anybody's death, having lost a child or been tortured or raped. We don't know when we're lucky.

  2. Caro, it sounds like you've thought hard about this! You're right, if we retraced our steps we'd very likely make the same decisions given the same circumstances. But hindsight gives us a false version of what those circumstances were.

  3. interesting post, Nick.
    I think our whole life experience contributes to who we are, both the good and the bad. we would be different people if we took the 'other' road. I think I've always taken the road less travelled. At least I like to think so and my friends affirm this, both from the emigration point of you and now moving to a remote province.
    I had one big regret that I hadn't done more for my deceased mother but , years later, I found a letter from her mother (my grandmother) telling me that no daughter had ever done enough.
    which got me to thinking very seriously about my perception of myself and how false my ideas can be and how false regret can be. We have no way of knowing how things would have turned out and in my case I am so grateful for the letter as it changed my perception of no regrets on anything....

  4. www, that's very interesting how your perception of helping your mother differed from your gran's, and how you actually had no cause for regret. It's not just hindsight that can stir unnecessary regrets but also distorted memory.

  5. I've also been fortunate in evading life's darker consequences, but, knowing what I know today, would I change anything? Your essay reminds me that I know now that an innocent, thoughtless moment cost me a relationship, that I held on too long to a job hoping it would change, that I wish I had taken the offer to sail a friend's sailboat up the Eastern seaboard.

    Life's choices, big and small. Looking back, knowing what I know today,would I go left instead of right? Probably.

    But, would I take the "do-over" if offered? Probably not. Odd, but too much of what is now a part of me would forever be undone. I think I value the mistakes more than the corrections.

  6. Dave - As you say, a do-over would erase the essential and valued parts of you as well as the less likeable bits. They're all intertwined, and in fact the lessons learned from mistakes may have directly led to later achievements.

  7. I have a few regrets but not depressing life long types although I often wonder what we'd all be like if my father had emigrated to Pakistan instead of Australia (It was on the cards). I do regret not being more confident and gregarious as a youngster. I'd have done the gap year travel thing instead of three months, moved out of home earlier that sort of thing. But generally and despite a few horrific events . . .some good has come from them and despite it all,I've turned out OK and so have my kids.

  8. I have had some bad things happen to me over the years, but the only things I might regret are the bad things I've done to others. Now, I'm not talking anything particularly bad here - but I have hurt people and I truly wish I hadn't.

    That said, in an effort to make up for it, I have spent so many of my years doing good things and being good to people that I may not have done without first being that person.

    In addition, my life at the moment is amazing - I am surrounded by such incredible people and am having some brilliant experiences. If I was to go back and change the things I regret, I can't see my life being as good as it is today.

  9. Baino - It's good that despite the things you regret not doing as a youngster, and despite some awful events, looking at your life as a whole it's still turned out well.

    Darren - So your feeling too is that if you hadn't regretted hurting people when you were younger, you wouldn't have gone on to the great experiences you're having now.

  10. Hmm! Not quite. I definitely wish I hadn't done some things in my life - but it's impossible to know what direction my life would have taken if I was to go back and change things.

    Strangely, I don't regret the awful things that happened to me - with hindsight, I may be still angry about a lot of it, but I do feel stronger and better having survived it (is that a bit too vague?).

  11. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger! or so they say - I've had a few decisions I could have weighed out more but in for the most part no regrets.

  12. There are a few choices I'd wish I hadn't made but, I am in my spirit a lemonade (out of lemons) kind of woman. I agree that yesterday's decisions grew me into the person I am today. I'll stick with those but, it is nice to imagine alternate realities.

    Funny how we always assume in those realities things are significantly different. it's just as likely that things would turn out pretty much the same.

  13. Darren - Sorry, I misunderstood you there. And no, that's not too vague, it's a fact we're often made stronger by facing up to something terrible.

    Quicky - Indeed, bad experiences can test us and bring out positive qualities we never knew we had.

    Gayle - Very true we assume alternative paths would have been quite different, even though it's the same old us that would have been taking them!

  14. You have an extremely healthy mindset, Nick, and are indeed fortunate.

    You raise an important issue as it seems most people have regrets which affect them and diminish their enjoyment of the present.

    There have been many events in my life which I would have preferred not to experience, but I have learned from all of them and I believe we learn the most from the least pleasant things that happen to us.

  15. Heart, I think that's true that we learn most from the unpleasant experiences as they bring us up with a jolt and cause some serious heart-searching.

  16. Have you read The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin by Ouspensky? All about someone who gets the chance to do it all again "knowing what he knows now".

    I have 2 specific regrets, both times said No when I really wanted to say Yes, but was too afraid.

    A few general regrets that are unresolved and where the outcome is still unknown.

    I would do a do-over in a heartbeat.

  17. Bellulah - Long time no see! How's everything going? I know of the book, but I've never read it. Sorry to hear there are things you genuinely want to rewrite - and at your tender age too! I hope there are no such regrets in the future.