No Regrets is a Myth – Mistakes Happen

July 2nd, 2013 Comments

MIstakes HappenWhen I was in my teens and early 20s, I heard a lot of people saying they would live their lives without regrets. This sounded really good to me, so I adopted the value also. And then real life hit me upside the head and knocked me down a time or two. I was talking to a friend once about some of the things we used to do together when we were younger. I made the statement, “I wish I’d done that differently.” (Paraphrased: “I regret some of those behaviors and actions.”)

His immediate response was a rebuke: “Oh, but that is a part of who you are today. Are you saying you regret who you’ve become?”

I’ve often thought about that conversation and this concept. Last night, I realized the missing element in this conversation – shame.

The reason people reject regret is because of it’s associated shame. If they can claim they have no regrets, then there will be no shame to hold them back. But if they admit they made a mistake, hurt someone (or themselves), or really made a mess of something – they can carry a boatload of shame in their hearts.

I have hurt myself, I’ve hurt others, and I’ve made enough mistakes to enable a generation of wisdom. For me however, I’ve sought forgiveness and made amends whenever possible. I’ll never forget having lunch with my ex-wife. We forgave, we apologized, we laughed, and we cried. We let it all go and walked away without the millstone of pain and shame on our shoulders. A few years later I had a similar conversation with my ex-best-friend who was sadly drawn into the drama of that failed marriage.

Bouncing out of that divorce, I fell into the arms of a vulnerable woman who was in love with me. She was my comfort and medicine, but I didn’t love her the way she loved me. When I finally left, she was hurt – very hurt. Several years later I tracked her down to apologize. I admitted being a jerk and for the poor choices I made. I don’t regret the time we had together, but I did regret feeding her unrequited love.

Over the course of the past 30 years I’ve enjoyed some really fun activities, awesome relationships, and interesting failures. Yes, that’s right, I have failed at some things. But even some of those awesome relationships didn’t end well and some of the fun activities turned out to be detrimental to my long-term happiness. Because of the work I’ve done – to include spiritual, emotional, and relational growth – I’ve let go of the shame, regret, and self flagellation. I’ve apologized, sought forgiveness, and moved on.

So, do I have regrets? Yes. But I don’t have the associated shame.

To me, a regret is merely wishing a mistake didn’t happen. If I forget to add coolant to my car and it overheats, I’m going to find myself stranded beside the road and I’m going to wish that hadn’t happened. This may make me late for an important meeting and I may miss an opportunity. If this chain of events unfolds poorly, I will regret it. However, being the healthy person I am <grin>, I’ll forgive myself and move on.

Why would it be different for an error in a relationship, or a mistake in behavior? We all make mistakes, but that’s not the end of the story. My Sister-in-Law just explained to me a concept of rupture and repair. Rupture is normal, but the real power is in the repair of those ruptures.

RegretOthers have told me there is no such thing as mistakes. That all things work together for good. But I can’t accept that. I do make mistakes, and I see others make mistakes all the time – especially in their cars in traffic.

Like my example above of an overheated car. I could look at the unexpected roadside delay as an opportunity. It isn’t necessarily a “mistake” to forget to add coolant, but this was just a growing moment that is teaching me to live more fully. However, for me, I see life as a journey and each step forward moves me further down field. While I can turn the mistake and a delay into a positive experience – depending on my approach and response – the fact remains, I could be farther down the road if I had been more mindful of the situation and taken an extra few moments of preparation.

My regret is the missed opportunities, but those are easy to repair and forgive – then I move one, without the shame.

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