‘No regrets’ is a great, if not silly or impossible, concept. But I imagine it is a better slogan than say … maybe … “manage regrets” or even “situational no regrets” or even “living a less regretful life.”
Regardless of the inspirational slogan and attitude … we all have regrets.
Sorry. That’s life.
The only way you could have no regrets is if
(a) you are always a sappy bag of shit sharing your feelings even when you haven’t been drinking
(b) you always make the ‘right’ decision all the time <i.e., you are never wrong>, or
(c) you are lying.
I really believe it comes down to a combination of “managing regrets” and/or “managing a regret moment.”
Because life is full of regrets <disappointments> … and probably a significant portion of these disappointments will be made up of decisions made or not made (and things said or not said).
As much as I wish theses things didn’t happen … they do … and they are painful <on a wide spectrum of paper cut pain to standing on hot coals barefoot in the doorway to hell pain>. And I imagine at some point you come to realize that each moment prepares you how to deal with disappointment, regrets and regretful decisions.
How about this. You better realize that because continuing to plan a life without any disappointments is going to be … well … disappointing.
Now. All that said.
I do believe there are “no regret moments.”
Moments where your life, career or personal, is at a crossroad.
And typically, let’s say 90%+, of these types of moments are defined by deed.
Saying or doing something <or not saying or doing something>.
And in electing to take some action … you can go for it, throw caution to the wind, go with your gut or just put yourself (mentally, image wise or even physically) in that moment.
In other words … you are invested.
And maybe because of that personal investment those type of moment’s regrets are pretty tenacious.
You can treat a moment as a no regret moment and yet afterwards have regrets <boy … that sucks even just to type>.
And the regret may be something as simple as “what the fuck was I thinking?” (In technical terms that could also be called “the benefit of hindsight”).
See. It’s tough.
And this whole regret thing certainly is relevant in the business world <hence the reason lots of senior managers drink).
Managers in every organization at one time or another will do things they wish they hadn’t done or fail to do things they wish they had done. Business regrets can come hard & fast. Bad hiring decisions, poor promotion decisions, failure to discipline, holding on to poor performers too long, not having enough promotable people in place, and losing good people to the competition <the list could actually go on>.
And, as a manager, you either figure out a way to internally justify the managerial regrets or you inevitably become a shitty manager.
In my eyes, regrets are actually a good measure of your life … and assessing the type of life you wanted to live and who you wanted to be as a person.
A large percentage of our life as workers, parents, managers and whatevers is pretty routine.
That means it is fairly common for most of us to fall into a routine. I read where someone described it this way … We’re like the moon in orbit around earth – we rise, we set, and we predictably change our phase during our normal business cycle.
If we don’t nudge ourselves out of this routine it runs the risk of becoming complacency.
The nudging moments are often fertile ground for regrets.
Hence the measurement of life.
And, no, I am not going to suggest everyone should have a boatload of regret moments to look back upon. Everyone is different. Some people prosper in routine and a well defined life. Some people prosper with change. All I suggest is you figure out what type of life you prosper best in and then assess.
Because one thing I can guarantee, regardless of type of life, you will have regret moments. They are inevitable.
Which leads me to managing a regret moment (as well as you can).
In the movie Dead Poets Society a teacher delivers the legendary line to his students … “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
He also quoted the poet Herrick:
“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying: And this same flower that smiles to-day, To-morrow will be dying.”
I agree with encouraging people to explore things in life. Oh. And the heck with that making yourself extraordinary thought … just explore … don’t focus on the extraordinary … I believe in doing so you end up making life more extraordinary … more interesting.
And I do believe putting yourself into challenging, and sometimes difficult, situations will help you learn more about who you are as a person.
And while I would like to tell everyone how to do it … I cannot.
There is no formula.
Everyone can make their life be meaningful … it just may be different for you then it will be for me.
<hence an easy regret to avoid down the road is judging someone based on your criteria>
And I also don’t believe everyone should do something right now <because every day might be their last> all the time.
I would suggest just don’t procrastinate too long.
In the end it seems to come down to management.
Managing regret moments.
Managing the sense of regret.
This managing thing.
Let me end with this thought. It comes from a guy named Jacob Burckhardt who wrote a pretty amazing book in 1943 called “Reflections in History.” While talking about judging history, reflectively, he made a comment on people that I thought was … well … thoughtful with regard to how you will ultimately judge your regrets:
“… in our own affairs, our judgment may change radically with age and experience. Not until the last hour of our lives can we pronounce a final judgment on the men and things we have known, and that judgment may be totally different according to whether we die in our 40th or 80th year. It has, moreover, no objective validity but only a subjective validity for ourselves. This is the common experience of any man whose youthful desires appear to him folly in later life.”
How about that?
While we will all have regrets … remember … they only have subjective validity to ourselves.