Most of us start out in life with certain expectations. Some might be generic such as forming a successful and supportive partnership, or perhaps being employed in a role that sustains us both financially and emotionally. We like to feel that we are making a difference.
Other expectations may be more specific to our situation, such as being selected for an elite sporting team or some similar goal. I remember years ago when my doctor confided that he had always wanted to be a forester, but he succumbed to pressure and expectations to follow a medical profession. I was a teenager at the time and I remember being awestruck that someone could spend a lifetime doing something that they didn’t really want to do.
I was reminded of life regrets on two separate occasions last week. The first time was when reading the comments of a woman in her thirties who had assumed that by her age, she would be in a conventional family situation with a partner and children. She was single and dealing with her feelings of sadness and grief that it hadn’t happened. The reality that she was confronting was that even if she met someone and formed a lasting relationship, it would possibly be too late for her to have children.
The second time I was reminded of regrets was when I read some of the responses to the survey that I recently conducted. One of the check boxes related to the respondent ‘dealing with the fact that the life I imagined is not going to happen. What now?’ There were some who ticked this box and indicated that this was a current source of unease.
Some regrets relate to the things we did in the past – the stupid, the selfish the thoughtless. These are the things we wish we could take back and erase. We are really sorry that there were people who we allowed to influence us with either their negativity or else their views on what path we should be taking.
Other regrets relate to the things we didn’t do. There are the opportunities we didn’t pursue, the study we didn’t complete, the travels we didn’t make, the helping hand we didn’t extend to someone in need.
Many regrets arise because life just got in the way of our dreams and we let it happen. Perhaps we thought that there was no other choice and in all fairness, at that time our options may have been very limited. With 20-20 hindsight, it can be easy to criticise our decisions and to see clearly what we should have done instead.
Regrets can be devastating and the associated grief takes time to process. One of the first steps we can take is to make a list of all the achievements that we have reached in our lives. Surprisingly, we often forget about some of our noteworthy accomplishments so it may help to ask someone close to you what they would consider to be classified as your successes. Taking this action helps you to see how others perceive you, which is often in a more positive light than you do yourself. Think of the list as a ledger on the past and it gives some perspective on the progress of your life to date.
We cannot erase the past, but there may be steps that we can take to right whatever misdeeds, mistakes or omissions are troubling us. That may be making an apology or simply acknowledging in some meaningful way what happened, and what were the circumstances at that time. Then, we should recognise that what happened is in the past and our ability to change that is a big fat zero. We may make some form of reparation, or acknowledge the circumstances, but we cannot change it.
The more productive action therefore is to look to the future and the control that you do have to take charge of what happens from here on. Think of your current situation this way: when you look back in five years’ time, what will you regret not doing? Will you regret not at least trying to take that action? How can you make it happen? What is the first step that you need to take and then the next step after that? Start with the little steps and the bigger ones will naturally follow.
And the woman that I mentioned at the beginning of this story? She has decided to pursue parenthood alone, although still with the hope that at some point, she may meet a person with whom to share her life, whether that be on her own or with her child. Good luck to her for taking action towards ensuring that remaining childless is not one of her regrets in later life.
How do you deal with regret in your life? Is this an issue that's confronting you?
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