My Answer: Regret

When I asked for stories of regret, you generously shared something that deeply touched me. Here is part of what you wrote.

“I have plenty of regrets, but the one I’ve had for the longest period of time and which causes the greatest distress is the regret that I haven’t lived my life to its fullest potential; hampered by and hostage to fears and phobias for the better part of six decades that have made my decisions for me.

What keeps me from falling into the depths of despair is acceptance of my own shortcomings in that regard. I didn’t choose to be this way, and I can only be who I am.”

Soon after I resigned my career or 35 years last month, I listened to the ‘regret pack’ in a meditation app. Here’s how Headspace’s Andy Puddicombe – a former Buddhist monk – defines regret:

“Regret is simply wanting things to have been different. And because that exists in the past, we have no ability to change it.”

I started that meditation course because even though I hadn’t left my job yet, I wondered whether I’d regret giving up my career. You might say I was putting the cart before the horse! [Although I doubt I will regret giving up my career as I have an even better one planned :)]

My biggest regret at this moment is that I wasn’t more proactive at various times in my career. But this doesn’t keep me awake at night. I just made a note. Be more proactive.

Joanna, your regret is different. Because of the anxiety you suffer, including a nervous breakdown at age eleven, your life has been less than you imagined it to be.

What a courageous observation. I suspect most of us wouldn’t dare to admit that and so we say things like ‘regret is pointless’ to paper over vulnerability.

Regret is the prick of conscience, that guides us down the canal of life. While I haven’t yet suffered from debilitating regret, I’m often reminded about missing the funeral of an elderly man whom I greatly admired. He had suffered many losses in his life, including his wife’s demise as a result of Alzheimer’s, the death of an adult child and the death of a beloved granddaughter.

He was an incredible soul. Interned in camp during the Second World War, he later became a musician, a conductor, an archaeologist and an author. He embodied what it means to be curious.

I skipped his funeral because I put work first. I scheduled an interview which couldn’t be shifted, and I chose not to cancel it.

Funerals are opportunities to discover the meaning of love. You can achieve many things in your life, but surely the best accomplishment is how well you have loved those around you and how much they have loved you in return.

At the funeral of my parents’ neighbour of thirty years recently, three generations of women spoke of the guidance they’d been gifted by their father/grandfather/great-grandfather.

I felt humbled to join such a celebration of love!

Joanna, you said that:

The mistake many people make is to see their phobias and anxieties as the enemy… but once they’ve been given a seat at your table, they behave much better.”

I very much admire your acceptance and self-compassion and I’m grateful to you for helping us all reflect on the purpose of regret.

Love, Jane