I had a conversation with a young man this weekend. He is a firefighter, engaged to be married, and owns a pretty awesome car. He expressed to me that he regretted not joining the military when he was younger. (He’s 25, I have to say, I laughed a bit when he said younger.)
I have had a few conversations with people older then me and I often hear them wax on about tales of bravery, or just cool things they have done, and inevitably they always slip in one of those, “but” comments that tell me they are about to recant their previous stories by reminiscing about something they wish they could have done differently.
That one topic I have noticed that transcends age and generation. It’s amazing how many people get trapped in those moments they wish they could change, or how they would do something different if they just had that chance again. It’s all very Larry Burrow’s, or Phil-esque.
“I would live my life so much differently if I could go back to…”
“If only I would/wouldn’t have…”
“If I could go back to this point in my life I would/wouldn’t….”
But, in all of those comments all I hear is how they have allowed regret to trap them in those moments. I have noticed how they think there life would be so much better if only they had or hadn’t… well… whatever’d.
Don’t get me wrong, I have struggled with regret, with those times in my life where I really wish I would have made a different decision. Like when I gave up on my dream to become a Navy SEAL. Year’s ago, it haunted me, and I regretted the fact that I never pursued it, because I made a different decision. To get married, and when my marriage hit hard times, or I wanted to be a jerk, I would bring up how I gave up my dream and blamed my wife for it. I would fantasize about how my life would be so much different… and better.
Then I had this moment. I’m not sure when it happened. I’m not sure what was going on. I just know that something inside of me clicked and I had this epiphany.
I am who I am today, because of those choices.
To look at my life with regret for those choices cheapens who I am today. As if by some magic of space and time or cruel trick of fate, the choices I didn’t make have made me worse or would have made me better.
What about those people whose lives I have affected? What about the son and daughter that I now have? What about the time I got to spend with my younger brother before he died? What about being there for my mom when she went through that? What about…
You get the idea.
Living with regret is over romanticizing a point in time and getting trapped. Forsaking everything good that you have accomplished since that point. Diminishing the life you have lived.
Not all of us get that George Bailey moment where we can see the impact that we have had, because trust me, your life is better lived without regret.
It is, however, just better lived.
Just as you are.
Bad choices and all.
I know mine is.