If you ask me whether there’s a duty to mitigate your own regret,
I will tell you this.
It’s happened many times, but most recently it was just a few days ago: someone told me, unsolicited, “don’t do it” regarding a relatively permanent endeavor I’m planning on taking. It’s nothing life ending or even altering (at least to me), but it will be something quite difficult to reverse down the road. The suggestion was well-intentioned, but it didn’t sway me in the least. I am very certain about my mind being made up.
Yet it got me thinking: do we have a duty to ourselves to mitigate all possibility of regret? And if we do, how much or what caliber of regret? To me, that line seems elusive if not claustrophobic depending on where it’s placed or how often we are expected to take the least regretful path.
Plus, it’s boring. It renders life sanitized and rote. It obscures the person you are in that very moment.
For sure, I think there is some level of responsibility that we each must take for our capacity or tolerance for living with regret. No one wants to hear you lament about a very poor choice you made because you didn’t think twice. Indeed, there are plenty of decisions that should be made with intention and a clear mind. But it’s a multi-faceted equation that goes beyond “could I possibly be remorseful with this decision x days/years from now?” You could always answer that question in the affirmative because who really knows, right?
Certain considerations should be taken into account, like whether someone else will also be affected or whether it will result in irrevocably harmful outcomes. It’s one thing to dye your hair neon green (it will grow out) or quit a job (you can find another one) because these things, though bold in some cases, are not necessarily permanent. It’s quite another to start smoking or drive 100 miles per hour after three cocktails. Those kinds of decisions can end very badly, and irreversibly so.
Yet a lot of the decisions you have yet to make in your life are in that middle place. The kinds of decisions where regret might not surface, if at all, until well down the road. The kinds of decisions where the full range of inherent risk (of harm, of irrevocability, of regret itself) is unclear at the outset. Whether to end a relationship because it protects your heart more adequately. Whether to start a new one. Whether to tell someone how you really feel with unabashed honesty and forthrightness. Whether to make a complete or unexpected life shift academically, professionally, or personally. For these kinds of decisions I suggest you lead with your heart. I think you will regret those decisions the least, if at all, because you made them in a moment when you were being truest to that version of yourself.
Yes, each of us can always find lessons learned and different kinds of happiness no matter which decisions we make. That is not what this is about. What I am talking about is the notion of stopping yourself from the possibility—whether it be remote or probable—of making a wrong, regrettable choice in those grey areas.
I’m just a few days into 42 years old. I’ve done a lot of the major decision making of my lifetime already. I think that’s why I was a little puzzled by the unsolicited advice I’d received. It had me wondering about the judgement, perceived incompetence, or our own insecurities we unfairly project onto others.
But you? You’re eight. That road of decisions and its concomitant potholes of remorse still stretches out before you unseen into the horizon. You will undoubtedly make some regrettable decisions in your life. We all do. I could sit here and tell you the kinds of regrets I do have, though strangely enough there are not too many. Perhaps it’s a function of my low tolerance for novelty and the amount of lead time I give myself for deliberating the big decisions, like who to marry or whether to have children.
That might not be who you are. My decisions and regrets are not some kind of map I can (or should) hand down to you. You might like a lot more excitement and new adventures. You might be able to make decisions on the fly. You might have more of them to make. You are also growing up in an era where your choices are more easily fodder for others to consume and disseminate.
And so my best advice is this: make enough decisions that present you with at least an inkling of possible regret, honor that possibility, and then go for it regardless. Let your heart hold the map and follow where it goes. Then, when you someday reflect upon those choices and decisions, think fondly of that girl or woman. You will know she lived with her heart leading the way. There is no regret in that.
Copyright (c) 2016 Kristen M. Ploetz