by Hayley Doyle
‘…but then again, too few to mention…’ sung Frank Sinatra.
It’s useless to regret. It happened. It’s done and dusted. Hey, hey, chill. It wasn’t a mistake because it was the right thing to do at the time. You did what you wanted. In the moment. Somehow. Look, I may regret writing this article one day. Regret making a fuss about all things regretful because, well, regret is just something that’s in the past. It’s been and gone, oh, bye-bye. We should live for today. And look forward. Don’t ever regret what you’ve done…
…but perhaps regret what you didn’t do.
And there it is.
The real regret is just that; In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take.
We have to remember that we’re human beings. We’re imperfect. There are many chances that we didn’t take. We missed out. We let fear overcome us. We made a decision in the moment that wasn’t the right decision to make! We will continue to make mistakes. We won’t always do what we should have done. We will experience more regret.
Oh, that’s so depressing, I hear. What a negative way of looking at things?
Fine, fine. Let’s all believe in one path. A destiny. That life’s mapped out for us and no matter what we decide to do or don’t do, we will somehow end up being steered back to where we belong. But surely even Matthieu Ricard - the Tibetan Monk named The World’s Happiest Man, after taking part in a 12-year brain study centered around meditation and compassion - must have the odd regret, right? What if he ate that unusual thing that gave him an icky belly ache? Sometimes, you can’t smile through that kinda stuff. Look, I’ve had mornings when I couldn’t be bothered to wash my hair and deeply regretted it hours later. No enlightenment to be shed. Just deep (greasy) regret. And if regret exists for something small, like a dodgy food choice or procrastination over taking a shower, then there must be deeper-rooted regrets lodged in there.
To push the notion that we should live with no regrets screams of toxic positivity. Why should we not be allowed to regret? To look back and wish we’d done things differently? We’re all beautifully complex. Each scar, both physical and emotional, matters. But we seem to live in a culture that’s so hooked on reels creating endless content about how to be happy, telling us how to feel and behave, that we’re in danger of abolishing those scars - or worse, glossing over them - and becoming emotional robots. Eek. Perhaps this is the grand plan. So that we can communicate better with the actual robots who are slowly starting to rule the planet…
Anyway, back to regrets. We all have our dark days. For some, they arrive when you least expect them. For others, a cloud can be seen in the distance, slowly making its way towards you, ready to block out your light for a while. When we feel like this, we can forget to be present, to be hopeful, and we wallow in what’s been. Or, what might have been. To say confidently that I live a life of no regrets wouldn’t be truthful. Of course, I’d like to believe that I do. Nobody wants to live with regret. But being completely honest, there are definitely moments when I think, where would I be if I’d done that differently?
Recently, my elderly relative had to be moved to a new care home when her current home suddenly closed down. The pressure on her immediate family was enormous, not to mention financially crippling. Nobody likes to imagine themselves in a care home, but this news made me look ahead into the unknown. I pictured myself being old, helpless, relying on younger family members to step in and make good decisions on my behalf. A pang of regret hit me; I wished I’d had more children! Why hadn’t I started a family younger? Have I created a future stress for my little ones by not giving them more siblings to lessen the load?
When it comes to my career, I’m a bit of a “Jack of all trades” in the creative industries. At certain times in my life - usually when I’m hustling for work during quiet periods, or juggling far too many jobs as a result from that hard hustle - I can feel regret. What if I hadn’t strayed down so many different paths? Why didn’t I just play piano? Or just dance? Or study only Shakespeare? Or start writing for magazines from the age of 21? Where would I be if I’d become a Master of One? Would I be an expert? Top of my field? Rich? Confident? Content? Not a day goes by when I don’t wonder about this, on some level. Why didn’t I create a more stable life for myself? My family? Why have I always chased the dream, and at times, got lost within that journey? People tell me not to feel regret about this. They say it’s who I am, that I wouldn’t want a life without the variety and the ups and downs, and that I’d actually regret giving it all up. But I’d rather acknowledge my regret, use it to fuel my ambition and keep me striving. Otherwise, I’m skimming over my feelings and bumbling along to the tune of a clichéd poem.
In the moment, mostly, you were doing your best. But sometimes, perhaps you could have tried better. Made that extra effort to pick up the phone. To go visit that person. To listen. To perfect that skill. To push harder. And if we’re true to ourselves, then we should feel regret, otherwise we’re making excuses for what we could’ve done, but didn’t do. Which is worse. Excuses build up. They clog our reality. They catch up with us. But if we accept being regretful, we can use this as a positive, eventually, once time has healed.
It’s the sliding doors effect, isn’t it? Every day we’re faced with decisions. Do we? Don’t we? Should we? Shouldn’t we? Can you? Can’t you? From what to eat for lunch to calling your mum to say, hello. From cleansing your skin to spending thousands on a new kitchen. From getting involved in a fight to walking away. How should we react? Blow up, or keep cool? Only afterwards, can we analyse the outcome of the decision we made. But is it worth it? Is it a waste of precious time? To dwell? Or, can we learn from our regrets, meaning, is it perhaps healthy to look back with regret? Do our regrets fuel our growth?
There are many question marks splattered about the page in this article. Regret is overwhelmed with ‘what-ifs’ and Unknowns. All we can do is question our regret, and then, try to find our own answers to settle our feelings in peace.
A deep regret that I have - one of which I’m not alone with - is my relationship with my phone. I’m eternally confused by it, generally dislike it, and yet, completely addicted. I’ve never admitted to enjoying it but somehow fell into its trap, deeper and deeper, and struggled daily to get out of it. I feel that it’s robbed me of time I spend with my children. Diluted my creativity. It’s eaten into the time I could be watching bizarre documentaries, dramas with Kate Winslet or Oscar-nominated movies (without distraction). It makes me late in the mornings and overstimulated at bedtime. These days, I have a 30 minute timer on my social media; I don’t scroll for longer than 30 minutes a day! But even that doesn’t seem to matter. There’s always something to look for, to buy, to check… Plus, the negative feelings it’s generated, the FOMO, the comparisons, the information overload, the trolling, the fighting, the endless you-say-this-well-I-say-that. Agh…Which brings me to a final question. Will our addictions to screens become the biggest regret of our generation because we’re missing the moment?
It’s okay to regret. We just need to be aware of how much we allow it to live in our present. And if we can learn to take that regret honestly and with gusto, we can use it to make today a whole lot brighter than yesterday.