“The saddest summary of life contains three descriptions:
Could have, Would have and Should have.” ~Unknown
“Regret’s I’ve had a few, but then again, too few too mention.” I love the song My Way, specifically the version by Paloma Sridhar.
This verse above has always stood out to me. Because this person singing states they have regrets, but it’s as if they have forgiven themselves and realize those choices were a part of what made them…them. Or maybe I’m just reading too much into the lyrics.
I don’t know many people who don’t have regrets about choices they have made in life.
Regret for an opportunity they did or didn’t act upon. Regret for something they said to someone that they can’t take back. Regret for the job they turned down. Regret for not telling that person what they meant to them.
When I was in fifth grade, I had a music teacher named Mr. Myers. He was AMAZING! He taught me so much about music which led to me playing the flute and singing. He will forever be one of my favorite teachers.
I, however, was in the minority of students that appreciated him. He was made fun of by almost everyone in my class. He was a gay man, and being in a tiny rural town in Kansas, apparently the students didn’t know how to accept that.
I recall many times students making fun of him behind his back, yet he would see it. Being a professional adult, he would not call attention to it, and walked on.
I had Mr. Myers as a teacher for a few more years before I switched schools. I was trying to muster up the nerve to tell him how much he meant to me before I moved away, but it never happened.
Although I never once made fun of this brilliant man, I suppose I was afraid of my fellow students making fun of me should they find out how much this teacher meant to me.
I moved away and never saw Mr. Myers again, and for years and years regretted never telling him what he meant to me.
Regret is natural. It needs to be validated and also reflected upon because it’s those feelings that are a part of changing how we respond to situations in the future.
You don’t stop feeling regret because someone tells you to. “Oh get over it, don’t beat yourself up.” That just isn’t how it works. It takes you looking inside yourself and reflecting on why you did or didn’t make that choice that you are regretting.
Two tips to help with letting go of regret
1. First things first. Forgive yourself. Easy to say, but it’s necessary if you don’t want it hanging over you for the rest of your life. This isn’t going to happen overnight.
Forgiving yourself doesn’t mean condoning or excusing. It means accepting what you have (or haven’t) done, and then finding a new perspective and reflecting on how you will handle it different should it happen again. If it’s something that you most likely won’t encounter again, reflecting on what it has taught you and how it will change your actions.
2. Ask yourself, what did you learn? Regret teaches us. It can teach us something about ourselves or about life. We can learn and grow from reflecting on what happened (knowing you can’t change the past) and responding different in the future (or the same, that’s your choice).
Here are a few words that I have tried to add or eliminate from my vocabulary to ensure that as my life goes on, my regrets will be fewer…
- I should work out more
- I should quit smoking
- I should get up earlier
- I should tell him that I appreciate him
Usually when you are saying should, it means you won’t. Try saying WILL instead and see if anything changes.
- I WILL work out more
- I WILL quit smoking
- I WILL get up earlier
- I WILL tell him that I appreciate him
2. What If?
- What if I fail?
- What if they make fun of me?
- What if she says no?
We usually say, What If as a precursor for NOT doing something. Or after something is done, wishing your could change the past. However, sometimes What If can be used to create possibility. So why not try adding don’t or doesn’t in there:
- What if I don’t fail?
- What if they don’t make fun of me?
- What if she doesn’t say no?
- “I’m sorry to interrupt but…”
- “I’m sorry to call so late but…”
- “I’m sorry to ask you to explain it again but…”
Why do you keep saying you are sorry? Try replacing I’m sorry with Thank You.
- “Thank you for taking a minute to answer my question, I know your time is valuable and I appreciate you.”
- “Thank you for picking up, I know it’s late.”
- “Thank you for explaining it to me again.”
Say you are sorry if it warrants an apology or if you are being a dick! But stop apologizing when it’s unnecessary.
Another time we say we are sorry is when someone else is struggling and you aren’t sure what else to say. I’m not saying you can’t say you are sorry in these situations, but here are some other options to try if saying I’m sorry isn’t feeling genuine to you:
- I’m here for you
- You have my support
- If I can help in anyway please let me know
Your life moves in the direction of your dominant thoughts, so whatever you set your mind to and focus on is how your life will follow. It’s not about forgetting what has happened, it’s accepting you can’t change the past, learn from your experiences, and choose how you will respond in the future.
I regretted not telling Mr. Myers how much he meant to me. Having said “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”, more than once…until one day I had to come to peace with it. I believe that he saw I was always kind to him. I believe he recognized how I always smiled in his class. I believe he saw my appreciation for him, even though I never got to say it out loud. But just in case he is reading this, “Thank you Mr. Myers for being such an influential teacher in my life!”
Remember, You Got This!