The reason regret has popped to the top of my list as a topic for the Choose You blog this week is that I listened to the Jeremy Clarkson interview (picture taken from www.telegraph.co.uk) on the Chris Evans show recently. Whilst Jeremy didn’t specifically use the word ‘regret’ about the circumstances surrounding his removal from Top Gear, it echoed through his comments as he took responsibility for what had happened: “it was my own silly fault so I can hardly complain”.
I have very mixed feelings about regret. On the one hand I don’t want to do as Edith Piaf suggests and regret nothing, as in my mind, if you don’t regret anything then you haven’t tried anything very much. For me having regrets is a part of living, whether it is regretting things that you have chosen to do, or things that you have chosen not to do. Because life is full of choices there must be times, (mustn’t there?), when we look back and think we could have chosen differently, and in those moments aren’t we going to have regrets?
But of course I am not aiming to have a life full of regrets either.
Without wishing to tie any of us in linguistic knots, I think what I am aiming to do is live a life where I don’t regret how I deal with my regrets!
As Henry David Thoreau, the 19th century American author put it:
Make the most of your regrets…to regret deeply is to live afresh
The thing with regrets is they get us somewhere. If we are choosing to regret something (and it is a choice) then we have choices about what we do about it. So having a regret is not a problem: it is what you do with it that counts!
A more modern take on it comes from Queen Latifa:
I made decisions that I regret, and I took them as a learning experience…I’m human not perfect, like anybody else”
Just the thought or possibility of regret is a powerful thing. The worry of doing something that you may come to regret could mean that you never choose to do anything. It could create a life full of ‘what ifs’ (as we have explored in the blog dated 2nd April 2015), and that you didn’t do anything could become your biggest regret!
And so for me it’s not as simple as Piaf’s ‘non, je ne regrette rien’. Regrets, and what we do with them, are complicated subjects.
A sobering thought (sorry to be a bit gloomy for a moment) is to reflect on what your regrets would be on your death bed. Bronnie Ware, having worked in palliative care for many years, has created a list, based on the thoughts of those she has supported in their last days. They are:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
- I wish I didn’t work so hard
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
- I wish I had stayed in touch with friends
- I wish that I had let myself be happier
The Five Regrets of the Dying: bronnieware.com 2014
When I was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, like so many others faced with that experience, I had an awful feeling that it was suddenly too late. Some things that I had devoted my life to didn’t seem important, whilst things that I had taken for granted, (family, friends, walks on a sunny evening, my health), all suddenly were. That big list of things I was going to do, those things I had assumed that I would get around to one day, now seemed out of reach. I had an immediate sense that, if I had known that the end was coming so much sooner than I thought, I would have chosen differently. But of course we can’t know that.
I have been lucky so far: I am still here. None of us know how long we have got, but when we get to the point that our health is failing then perhaps it is too late. Then we can only reflect on, celebrate or regret, how we have spent our healthy days.
Many things can take us away from the future we had planned: redundancy, divorce, ill health, the death of someone close to us. What I have learnt is that we don’t have to wait for something to happen before we make the choices that are important to us. We have the opportunity to step up and make sure we are choosing right now. Maybe now is the time to write your own list of things you don’t want to regret, and to make sure that from this point forward you make choices that help you avoid what is on that list.
I don’t know what’s on Jeremy Clarkson’s list. That he takes responsibility for how he got to be where he is, and for where he goes next, is perhaps a good indication that he is using his regret as a spring board to new things and to avoiding regret in the future?
And that is perhaps the great power of regret. It is not good or bad in itself. It is what we choose to do with it that makes the difference.
What would be the 5 regrets at the top of your list? What can you choose to do from this point forward to help you avoid having them on that list?
I love hearing your thoughts on the Choose You project and your examples of Choose You moments, so do please continue to share them with me, (you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Thank you for reading this blog. I look forward to sharing more thoughts with you in a couple of weeks.