“It is better to look ahead and prepare than to look back and regret.” ~Jackie Joyner-Kersee
We as humans have an incredible ability to help each other in times of need. When things get rough and life gets hard, we tend to come together, step up to the challenge, and provide assistance. Our selflessness shows, and it’s amazing to see everyone work in harmony.
Need proof? Just look at any natural or man-made disaster in this world, and you’ll see it. We are a species that shows calculated compassion, unlike any other living creature on Earth.
But as much as we come to help one another, we rarely extend that same compassion toward ourselves. This is especially true when crisis hits us internally; we find it nearly impossible to show ourselves compassion.
Why is that? Why do we have such a hard time with it? It’s a hard question to answer, but I believe it stems from one simple thing: We have really high expectations for ourselves, and it’s almost impossible to live up to them.
When someone looks at us from the outside, they can only judge us on our actions. But from our own internal perspective, we judge ourselves based on our thoughts.
There’s no better example of this than when you fail to take action on something you’ve been wanting to do for a long time. You let fear, uncertainty, comfort, and excuses talk you out of doing it. And looking back, it eats you up inside.
And naturally, you get upset. I can already see the internal dialogue: “How could you let that happen? You idiot! Why didn’t you do it? Ugh, come on.”
Then, and without fail, something else happens: Regret creeps in. This is the moment you start asking yourself hypothetical questions. “What if I had done that? Where would I be right now? What would my life look like?” I know what this is like because I’ve been there. And to this day, it can still be a struggle for me.
I question my abilities at times, and my lack of action. At its worst, it feels like my life has been defined by my inability to take action. Almost like a chain reaction of missed opportunities, one after the other. As a result, I’ve wasted a lot of energy regretting a lot of things.
Don’t Waste The Limited Energy You Have
It’s not any kind of breaking news that time flies. We know this. There’s even a popular quote that conveys this sentiment: “The days are long but the years are short.”
Yet we don’t really understand just how true it is, until the time’s gone. In fact, as I sit here right now, it’s crazy to think just how fast the last decade has flown by. Yes, even when most days seemed really long. Funny how that works. I’m sure you can agree with me here.
So there you sit, thinking about the eighty-five things you regret not taking action on over the last twenty years of your life. Maybe it goes back even further. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you only regret some things you didn’t try in the last few years.
Either way, you let the regret stew like a pot of beef that’s been slowly simmering in a Michelin star-rated chef’s kitchen. That’s the best way I can describe my regrets. Hey, if anyone needs a great recipe for regret, let me know: I’ve become a master in letting it stew in the crockpot for months, even years. You’re probably with me on that one.
But here’s the problem: We only have so much energy every day to put toward our growth. In other words, it’s a finite amount. Every morning, we start with a defined energy level. A lot of it has to go toward running our daily lives; things like work, family, and daily responsibilities drain us of a large amount from our tank.
After all of what daily life has to take, you’ve got just a bit of energy left. Unfortunately, some of the leftovers have to go toward unexpected things in life on occasion. Things like minor crises, a change of plans, a mild argument with someone, you name it. So now, you’ve got even less left in your tank. This is the crucial area where it can go one of two ways:
- We use that small amount of remaining energy fulfilling our passions and growth, or
- We use that small amount fighting things we can’t change.
I’ve experienced extremes on both ends, and I can tell you right now the latter does you absolutely zero good.
As I round into my mid thirties, I can tell you a number of occasions where I put myself in hot water with regret. I’ve said things I shouldn’t have. I’ve taken steps that, looking back, were obviously not good ones (but helped my growth). I’ve been in the wrong relationships, wasting time (but gaining invaluable insight into who I am).
I’ve also regretted not making some things a reality. One of the biggest regrets was not moving to a different state when things were easier. What do I mean by “easier”? Well, I had my entire family residing in the same city I was in, including my parents. I had a good job, but one I could easily take elsewhere. I had a bunch of friends, but I had no big responsibilities tying me down.
The problem? I was also scared, so I talked myself out of it. I was happy to be close to family, friends, and continue at my job. Time went on, and as much as I still thought about it, I didn’t make any big moves.
Then, my dad passed away, leaving my mom, his partner of over fifty years, alone. And just like that, I suddenly became the only man around. I took on a bunch of responsibilities to help where I could, including being a rock for my mother. Am I glad I was able to provide that assistance? Of course. With absolutely no regrets.
But did I regret not getting a chance to explore and live in a different city, years prior to him passing? You bet. But anytime it creeps up, I realize one important thing: the best time was twenty years ago, the next best time is now.
It’s never too late to try something you’ve always wanted to. Let me take it one step further, too: There’s never a perfect time for it, either. I foolishly tried to have 356 puzzle pieces all fitting together before I made any kind of step. Unfortunately, this is pretty normal. We as humans want to make sure things are lined up perfectly before we make any kind of bigger move.
But I’m here to tell you it’ll never line up quite like how you want it. If things are in pretty good order in your life, take the action you’ve always wanted.
Let Go Of Your Past
More importantly, stop wasting your time regretting your past. Maybe you haven’t (yet) done something you’ve always wanted to do. Maybe you have done something you wanted, but it didn’t work out like you wanted and you wish you could go back and do things a little differently.
In either case, it’s important to understand the past is just that, the past. There’s a reason your car windshield is so large in comparison to the rear view mirror. You have to be looking forward to drive, and only on occasion do you look backward, before focusing again on what’s in front of you.
All of us, no matter what our backgrounds and our current situation, are here to learn. And learning happens through failures. Sometimes, failures are inaction. Sometimes, failures are action-gone-wrong. What’s more important than the result is learning from the situation and knowing things can always change going forward. Always.
Remember, you have a finite amount of energy every day, and you want to use the little bit you have leftover on yourself, not others. This could go one of two ways: beating yourself up, or putting it toward your future and self-growth.
I would personally choose the self-growth route. Getting mad at yourself is a fruitless endeavor. Instead, use that energy to make the moves you crave. The moves you know you want. The ones you know you need (hello, gut!).
It’s never, ever too late to experience things and learn from your past. A new city. A new career. A new partner. A new outlook on life itself. Regret won’t get you there. But realization will.