It can be hard to avoid regrets, sometimes. Life is filled with a variety of experiences and every decision to engage in one means there is one you are missing out on. Everything results in missed opportunities, one way or another, so it can be easy to think of what those opportunities might have been and wish that you’d made a different choice. These regrets, even if you meant only to indulge for a few moments before moving on, can cling to you like burrs for the rest of your life if you aren’t careful to remove them. They rarely disappear on their own and they’re really good at popping up again somewhere else once they’re stuck on you.
A simple wish that you’d made other decisions when it comes to your college education–which would resulted in significantly fewer student loans–can become a whole series of regrets when it shows up as a wish that you hadn’t needed to take a certain job after college that was possibly the most psychologically damaging thing you’ve ever subjected yourself to. A simple wish that you’d decided to try to make a long-distance relationship work instead of ending things when you moved can turn into years of pining and daydreams of what might have been. Regrets are easy to pick up, they are everywhere, and require a lot of work to avoid or get rid of. I still find myself wondering what my life might have been like if I’d stayed in college and that’s a short step away from regretting my decision to move to Wisconsin for college, but I’m still one of the better people I know when it comes to dealing with potential regrets.
In order to entirely avoid regrets, you would basically need to avoid any opportunities, never make decisions, and somehow find peace with yourself after a life of doing nothing and interacting with no one. You would need to cut yourself off from humanity and possibly even your feelings. Avoiding regrets is a terrible idea and is probably the most regrettable thing you could do.
Learning to process regrets and accept your past is far more healthy. Some people get so good at it that they seem almost like they don’t regret anything. As someone who was once one of those people, I don’t think that’s true. I think people just don’t really realize that they’ve learned a skill many people never do. It can be difficult for people to process regrets or to learn to let go of something they’ve been holding onto for their entire life, and someone who was once good at it can forget the lessons they learned or find something they’re not willing to let go so quickly.
I don’t like feeling regretful. I feel like spending time on regrets is a waste of my current potential and being able to take positive, constructive steps in my life right now is a better response to potential lost opportunities than thinking about how they might have turned out. Despite that, it can be difficult to not look back at a few things in my life and wish that they had gone differently. My student loans are a burden. I don’t have a great relationship with most of my family. I’ve given up on relationships when there were still other options. I set my dreams aside to try to earn money quickly in order to be able to focus on my dreams.
Hindsight is 20/20 and regrets are easy. It is more difficult to remember that I had a good reason for every decision I made and that each choice seemed like it was the most beneficial at the time. I had no context for how much money my loans would wind up being. I tried harder than I should have to maintain and repair most of those relationships. Things weren’t as great as I remember them being and there were enough problems that it made sense to make a clean break rather than drag out what was probably going to be an unhappy end. I couldn’t afford to focus on my dreams and, like the proverbial frog in the pot of water, it happened one small concession at a time.
I made the best decisions I could at the time and I don’t regret doing what I thought was right. I’m sad things turned out the way they did, but the chances are good that making other choices would have resulted in something worse happening. Even if it is difficult to see sometimes, I got a lot out of the decisions I made.
I needed to get out of my home state in order to grow and learn about myself. I’m stronger now because of the independence I fostered and the friends I made in college. I didn’t really have a choice in the matter and did the best I could at the time. I’ve learned a lot about myself and what is important to me in life by addressing the current state of those relationships with my therapist. I needed to get away from a city that held nothing but sad memories for me at the time and then stay away. A clean break meant I wasn’t constantly traveling back to a place where I had started to feel stuck and stifled. I know now that my dreams are my calling and I’m more determined than ever to see them through. I had the opportunity to earn material wealth and conventional status by settling into a life of compromise and passivity, but I learned I’d rather be broke and stressed out of mind as long as I get to be creating something.
I’ve learned to process regrets and to remove them. I’m no longer as quick at it as I once was, but I can still do it. What I’m learning right now is that I don’t think I’ve ever had a regret that I didn’t want to let go. Those are a different beast entirely and something I’m not sure I’m going to be able to handle nearly as well as past regrets. I don’t really know how to let go of or process something that I still want more than I’m willing to admit to myself most of the time.
I don’t regret that it happened. I don’t regret anything in regards to how it went. What I regret is that it ended. I regret that we weren’t able to work it out. I regret that we weren’t right for each other and no amount of wishing on our part would fix it. Even working at it wasn’t enough, in the end. It was the right decision and I know it. I even feel it. I just regret that it was a decision we had to make and I probably will for a while. I need more time to process this before I’m ready to let go of this regret, but I’m certain I will eventually.
It just sucks right now. Everything sucks right now because regrets will expand to fill every hole in your time and attention. Soon, I will start to peel it away from me. Extricate it from my life. Pack it up and process it. In a week, a month, or maybe more, I will be back to feeling no regret, but I’m not going to hurry it up. Instead, I’m going to cut myself some slack, mourn the end of an important relationship, try to reclaim the parts of my life that had become about the two of us, and then prepare myself for the reformed relationship that’ll form out of this one when we’re both ready.
Someday. Eventually. Like I said, I’m not going to put myself on a timeline. I’m going to let myself regret and heal at my own pace. I owe myself that much.