At one point we’ve all met these people, hell, we’ve all probably been these people at one time or another. The seemingly self-assured, and over-confident hero that has risen like the phoenix from the fire of their emotional past. To validate themselves and give purpose to their trauma (small or large) they typically adopt the “everything happens for a reason” mantra, along with its trusty sidekick “No regrets”.
In my eyes, this almost tribal ritual of rationalization typically starts popping up a few years after high school, you know, around the time people start doing some really stupid shit, and then hits its stride after a few major regrets start settling in.
I’m not sure how it happened, but somewhere from opposable thumbs to Oprah’s book club, we began believing there’s an inverse relationship between having regrets and being happy with the person you are. As if its similar to the relationship of being a Dane Cook fan and being capable of intelligent conversation.
As with the majority of popular social paradigms this is another that sinks under further scrutiny. The No Regrets crowd, as I’ve experienced them, tend to fall into two main groups; Those that seem to have a list of not so great decisions longer than George W.(who seems to be a great case study for this) and those that have never really made any decisions that weren’t “safe”, or A-typical. One tribe trying to justify its misfortune, while the other clinging to its mediocrity as a trophy.
Our regrets are the lessons we gain from living. Never have I met a very interesting and self-aware person that evolved and grew from the path of least resistance.
I learned long ago that aside from those decisions that may physically or emotionally harm someone else, it is better to act, fail miserably and learn than regret non-action. Even today I struggle with task of springing into productive self-motivated action vs. the fear of failure. I still recall learning my first lesson in this course as a hormonal teenager on the prowl for girls at local dances.
Now gather ’round as I tell yee my story…
Every weekend my fifteen year old posse and I would head to whichever local venue would be hosting an “all-ages party” and find a place to hold up the wall and take in our surroundings. Being the consummate adventurer, I would wander throughout the crowd with my ‘too cool for school’ face on, all the whilst trying to stop the fear of the opposite sex from running down my leg. Each week I would my eyes would fall on yet another girl and fall deeply, madly, and desperately in love. With each love induced coma also came the paralyzing fear of having to approach her, and would therefore return home each week kicking myself as mother added insult to injury by asking the rude question of, `How was your night?`
One weekend my posse decided it was time for a change and -parental transportation permitting- Hamilton Roller Gardens would be our new Saturday night hang out. From my first step in the door I saw her, long dark hair, reddish shirt, and a pack of cigarettes tucked into her back jeans pocket like she was auditioning for *Grease*(seriously!). Yet again, I was in love. For the first two weeks at our new hang out I’d spend our entire time ignoring my friends and plotting a way to approach her without vomiting in my mouth or tripping over my tongue. In both instances I failed to act and spent the following days in a pity of teenage angst and self-loathing.
During our third visit I had enough courage to walk near her and say something in passing, a drive-by, if you will- more self-loathing.
By the time week four came around I had enough of this act one tragic play, and I’m pretty sure my friends had enough of my girlish crush. This week it was time to man up. Around the end of the night, Boyz II Men came on and I strapped on my emotional parachute and jumped. I marched through the crowd of future Proactiv customers and up to my nicotine Queen.
“Hi, I’m Mike. Would you like to dance?” I studdered out though I had rehearsed it a million times.
The crowd goes wild, this was the love of my life. We would have three children and if required, I would carry them myself. Nothing could top this feeling of accomplishment and success.
The song wound down.
“Thanks!” She said as I removed my hands from her hips and we smiled at one another.
We would be telling our grandchildren about this moment, I could feel it. There was just one minor detail to get out of the way and we were off to live our lives together.
“Would you mind if I got your phone number?” My wording was flawless, I was starting now to be impressed with my inner Rico Suave.
“Sorry, I have a boyfriend.” she said, and at this point I may have went temporarily deaf to shield myself from any additional information. I probably muttered out a “cool”, or something similar before slinking back to my friends.
As our evening came to a close and I got into the minivan of my friend’s mother, when again confronted with the question of how our night went something surprising happened, I smiled. I had overcome my biggest fear of the moment, took a hit, yet was somehow still alive. I was already thinking about next time, ‘find out if the girl has a boyfriend, THEN ask for her phone number’. Got it.
As juvenile as this story is, I keep it as a firm reminder that there’s growth in regret, in fact, I prefer it over living in a world of fear, or boredom. The sole regret to be avoided like the plague, is the Regret of Inaction.
To act is to learn. It gives us data from which to act further. Yet to live in a world of what ifs, or what may have been, I can only imagine is like a prison with no bars, no walls, and also no escape. A constant reminder of missed opportunity.
The last time I checked we’ve all only been allotted one life, although it seems most of us live like we’ve got another one stashed away for safe keeping. This is not to say there is no satisfaction in the planned and expected, but realize that your regrets are not to be forgotten, but cherished.