In my 20s, whenever anyone asked if I had any regrets, this was me:
I said this because I felt that regrets were for people who got impulsive tattoos and drank themselves sick. They were for people who didn’t make good choices. Bad people. Regrets were admitting you took a wrong turn somewhere, acknowledging you were imperfect. Me? I was so straight and narrow you could use me as a ruler. People who make no mistakes have no regrets. The end.
Remembering the yawping of that 20-year-old now makes me feel sick. If my younger self called me on the phone, I would hang up on her.
Turns out, saying I had no regrets has become a bit of a regret itself. Because of course it wasn’t true. I have plenty of regrets. Age has a funny way of forcing you to tell yourself the truth, especially when you see how tough life is. If you’re not making mistakes and feeling the sting of an occasional regret, double-check that you’re actually alive.
My particular regrets are organized around fear: being too scared to take a risk, missing opportunities, waiting too long to take action. My regrets are less about something I’ve done and more about things I haven’t. And apparently I’m not alone. This Forbes article explores people’s 25 biggest regrets. No surprise that many of them are about not living life to the fullest, whether in relationships with others or missing out on major life moments.
Three regrets from the article stood out to me in particular.
6. Worrying about what others thought about me so much.
This. So much. The danger of being a people pleaser is that you sometimes have to appease people who are diametrically opposed to one another. Good luck with that. I’ve wasted so much time (SO MUCH) worrying, nervous, sick to my stomach over things I couldn’t control – like other people’s thoughts. I’ve tried playing mental chess, figuring out three moves ahead. It’s exhausting and it doesn’t work. You may do a great job of pleasing someone else, but you’ll get lost in the process. It’s why, at my age, I still have to sometimes ask myself what I want. I have to do that because I’m not practiced at it, and knowing what I want doesn’t come naturally for me. It was always my job to know what others wanted first.
Thankfully, after spending some time working on this, I’m less of a people pleaser than ever before.
8. Living the life that my parents wanted me to live instead of the one I wanted to.
Remember that people-pleasing thing? Yeah. It started early. I can’t change any of it. That’s the hard part, isn’t it? Not being able to correct the past? The good news is that I’ve turned the ship around and am charting my own course now. And I think I’ve found my place.
19. Choosing the practical job over the one I really wanted.
So here’s that anti-risk part. I spent too long in practical but stupid jobs. I was a square peg in a round hole, and I was miserable. Even though it took me a long time to get here, I’m happy to say that I’m living more creatively than ever, inching closer and closer to a fully creative life.
Ultimately, I do regret nothing. I regret the many nothings that have dotted my life, all the pivotal moments marked by inaction. I’m doing what I can to change that behavior now, knowing full well I might make a mistake, do something stupid, look back and shake my head.
What are your regrets?