My good friends know I am a fan of Ryan Holiday’s writing. I also used to follow him on Instagram (but now I am on a digital decluttering, adapted from Cal Newport) and I loved that he posts his every day workout routine, as I find it inspiring to see people follow through with their habits as I am working hard to form some healthy ones on my own.
Anyhow, I am subscribed to his newsletter and I receive and read his posts on Medium. This last one I received, 32 Thoughts From a 32-Year-Old, has many links to previous writings. And what is there better to do when supposed to work on other issues (procrastinator supreme here, talking of habits one needs to form and/or kick off)? One of those sends the reader to this article here, titled Why Are We So Certain About Our Mistakes? A technique to avoid future regret.
An article I found totally inspiring. Mostly because I identify with two things he wrote:
(1) have I ever felt embarrassed with my past writings? Oh, please. I’ve recently read my diary from middle school and, while happy I still have it, I was past embarrassed, into anger, for how mean I come off. And don’t get me started on my bachelor/master thesis? I write and edit and then I want to re-write and re-edit and change and work so many times, that I could have an essay to work on for the rest of my life and
(2) we really should turn inwards and reflect on ourselves and our actions more, in order to compare the current version of ourselves to our ideal selves and make adjustments as need be; am I aware about it? Sure I am. I am responsible and I do try to do my best. I try to be deliberate in my most important decisions [rational, too, though this perspective is sometimes criticised in the favour of acting based on feelings], but, despite my better knowledge, I am also reactive, maybe mostly reactive [I do get dressed based on how I feel in the morning; having few clothing items I mostly like very much, does the trick].
I manage to do very good work at times, but I also fail at others [And when I fail, oh, I fail big. Great there’s always a very important lesson I thought I knew but I didn’t really and there is some lesson in my failure]. And when I fail, I feel conscious and wished I’d acted differently and so I become anxious concerning the future [what if I will make another mistake?] and I feel paralyzed and want to never act again and have absolutely no responsibility for absolutely anything in my life ever again [in these cases, I generally dream of living on a beach, where I’d only drink water – not at all sweetened, of course, I don’t like sugar at all, sure, not even a little bit – and read books I love and swim and that’s it; when I realise this is improbable, – because where will all the books come from, I wonder, who pays for my luxurious life of doing nothing but read all day? -, I wish I were in a big forest, where I keep on walking]. But then I come to my better judgment and breath and focus on the present moment, trying to repair my mistake.
When I come to my better judgement I realise that having no responsibility is probably only possible when one is death, because otherwise, there is always a responsibility to have. Always. You got that? Each person is responsible for their own life and actions and feelings and thoughts all the time. Let this sink in. Take your time. You’re responsible for it. It being whatever it’s in your control: what you say, why you say it, how you act, what you think. All of this is your own responsibility. Mine, too.
So knowing this, I try to navigate life by doing the best I can. I try to be understanding, ask questions, adapt to each person, but it is not only tiresome to myself at times, as incredibly irritating to others; I may come off as uncertain, naive or plain dumb [Really, I can’t count the times I tried to be respectful and ask questions to make the other person confirm/infirm my hypothesis and be told I am naive or annoying people for being too detailed oriented – which I am-]. So, I know I might be wrong. I know I might make mistakes. I am wrong and I make mistakes. And this is what helps me to move on. I screw things up. Sometimes it is a big deal. But I take my time, let it sink in, try to correct and then move on.
However, all this led me question whether is it really possible to live with no regrets. Sure, we make mistakes and we learn from them and we continue our life journey. But do we never feel sorry for what happened? Well, I kind of think
We should feel sorry for some things.
A well lived life must imply having some regrets.
Yes, that’s right, regret is part of a (healthy) well-lived life, in my opinion. Sure, I might be wrong.
So, let’s assume I am wrong.
That means that I believe one should live without regrets. Well, what would that mean? To me, this reads as though I would do whatever I want and never feel guilty or sorry for (some) things I do. To not feel sorry for my actions, despite obviously leading to hurting someone. To consider that all I do is correct, that it’s the right thing to do…
Oh, I can’t even imagine myself being so selfish and presumptuous and wrong. So, basically, of course I make mistakes. Of course not all my actions are correct, just or kind. Of course that something happens and I act and when looking back, after the fact, I wish I did it differently. I wish I wouldn’t have made promises I couldn’t kept. I wish I wouldn’t have hurt someone, more or less intentionally. I am sorry that sometimes, in order to have the life I want, there are people who feel hurt because of my decisions. For example, my grandmother wished I remained in Brasov, but I didn’t and she was saddened by it. Glad for my successes, but hurt by my decision to study in another place. Not acknowledging what she felt feels cold to me. Sure, I didn’t do it on purpose to hurt her. Sure, it was a consequence of my willingness to try something new.
I have made my own choice and that came with good things and bad things. I regret making that decision? No, but I might have dealt with the situation differently. Do I wish I have never wrote a diary when in middle school or high-school? Of course not, I just wished I were kinder and more reflexive. Do I wish I talk to the person who drives me mad instead of someone else for cooling down? Sure, but that means learning to be vulnerable and have difficult conversations, which is still work in progress – without feeling guilty about it, I would have never started the process though. So it’s not about regretting the entire thing and all the decisions one made. But to acknowledge our wrong doing and to find ways to learn from it.
Now, I love that I have regrets. That I wish I did (some) things differently. That I wish I read more, wrote better, cited other sources, been more engaged, volunteered for a cause I believe in [which implies finally deciding which is the cause in which I believe], gave more of myself, been better, greater, kinder, funnier [and so much more], can be a sign of perfectionism. But it’s not. It’s a sign of high standards applied to myself. And of progress. The fact that I regret doing some things, only means I matured, I understand and accept I was wrong, I learn my lesson and get myself ready to try again with new information which helpfully supports me to improve as a human being. Ready to make more mistakes. Ready to learn more.
I don’t believe in living with regrets for the entire life. But I surely think having regrets is part of a healthy life. Of acknowledging human limitations and acting on the desire to be more.