“If only. Those must be the two saddest words in the world.”
We all make mistakes in life. We stumble, deviate from our intended path, and experience failure. It’s a fundamental part of our nature as human beings and a crucial aspect of our journey of self-discovery.
Even though it can be painful and tempting to wish we could turn back time, we should never regret our choices, no matter where they lead us. Did you regret buying that pair of shoes whose fashion trend wore out abruptly, a smartphone model that lacked certain features, or joining a club that developed terrible habits or deprived you of doing what you love? I hope not. Before you bought those items or expressed commitment to join a group, you thought long and hard and decided on your own volition.
By the way, do you know the common regrets of the dying?
Often, our decisions are the outcome of extensive contemplation and internal struggles. Our minds gather information, establish connections, make predictions, and make rational decisions based on available knowledge. We may not be fully aware, but much of this analysis occurs in our subconscious.
When I lost my job in Hong Kong for the third time, I decided to pursue my own consulting company instead of seeking another employment. Rhodylyn urged me to find jobs, but I insisted on pursuing my freelance career, and she found a job herself.
Sometimes I had clients left and right and big projects from blue-chip companies. I was even invited to speak at an SEO conference. But when those projects dried up, I asked myself if my wife was right and if I should have held a secured job. Our rent was due once, and I’d check my account, almost empty savings.
Looking back, it was tempting to feel regret about those decisions. But I vowed never to regret the decisions I made.
Why regret is wrong
Regret is a feeling of remorse over previous actions, decisions, or missed chances. Wishing for a different outcome is it. When people think they made a mistake or fell short of their goals, they regret it. But I believe it’s wrong because it’s an incorrect response to an unwanted outcome.
It causes emotional distress. Regret frequently causes severe emotional pain. It can cause grief, remorse, shame, and disappointment. Dwelling on past decisions and behaviors can lead to a continual feeling of dissatisfaction and impairing mental health.
When we arrived in Australia with Rhodylyn suffering a life-threatening disease, I pondered whether deciding to leave Hong Kong was a mistake and put her at further risk.
Sometimes we think of meeting people who caused us trouble, harm, or heartache. Still, we should not regret feeling bad for such encounters, as our experience with them could teach a lesson or two, or meeting them would bridge new opportunities.
It could further trigger indecision. When people over-regret their previous decisions, they may become paralyzed by indecision and fear of repeating the same mistakes. This can make it difficult for individuals to take risks, pursue new possibilities, or make critical life changes.
When I passed the UPCAT for Chemical Engineering at UP Los Banos, I pleaded with my parents so I could begin pursuing a career at a prestigious university. But I failed to proceed due to our poverty. I ended up seeking a scholarship at a school nearby.
It causes self-blame or lower self-esteem. Regret is often associated with self-blame and self-criticism. Constantly chastising oneself for past misdeeds can lead to low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness. It becomes difficult to move forward and believe in one’s ability.
When Meralco came to my university to recruit programmers to work in Manila, I felt dejected about failing to pass the screening process. At the same time, my class project buddies Ronald and Ronald made it.
It makes us fantasize about dwelling in the past. Excessive remorse can force someone to dwell on history and miss out on present chances. They cannot wholly engage in the current moment and seize fresh opportunities for progress and enjoyment because they are constantly preoccupied with what may have been.
When I almost flunked Differential Calculus, I thought my course choice was a mistake and wondered if only we were well off enough so I could fulfill a childhood dream of being an airline pilot. Half a decade later, I stood before a freshman class teaching the same Calculus subject.
Regret can hurt relationships. People obsessed with remorse may transfer their emotions onto others, generating friction and strain in their interactions. The inability to let go of previous wrongs can stymie forgiveness and productive relationships.
Instead of finding closure on a nasty breakup with a past girlfriend before I met Rhodylyn, I could not move on and deal with the betrayal in front of me. As a result, any estranged friend reminds me of that painful experience and what I did wrong.
What should I do instead?
Instead of feeling regret, I need to channel my effort away from the destructive mindset enumerated above into something positive:
Draw out lessons from the unwanted outcome. Reflecting on past actions and decisions we regret allows us to understand what went wrong and how to improve. It can lead to personal growth, the development of wisdom, and the ability to make better choices. When I broke up with Katherine, I resolved to be better at handling relationships centered on trust while letting her go in peace.
Offer empathy and compassion to those who have the same regrets. Regret can create empathy and compassion for people with similar regrets or mistakes. It aids in empathy and support. While I failed to land a job at Meralco, I was blessed to join the UIC Computer Center, and offered advice to my students who failed in their oral defense or job interviews that failure — encouraged by some — is a motivator for success.
Define our moral compass. Regret can signify that we have a moral compass and a sense of right and wrong. It shows that we recognize when our actions or decisions have not aligned with our values or the standards we hold for ourselves.
I used to blame my parents for not letting me go to UP. But I realized it was OK to come from an obscure university in the province and align with friends in Hong Kong and Sydney from prestigious institutions like Mapua, UP, Ateneo, and DLSU. Notably, I submitted to obedience to my parent’s wishes and used our poverty as a motivator to strive to succeed.
A life without regrets is essential for emotional well-being, personal progress, and truthfulness. It enables people to focus on the present moment, learns from past events without feeling weighed down by regret, and make decisions that reflect their values and objectives. By adopting a regret-free mindset, individuals can build better pleasure, joy, and meaningful connections.