Search This Blog

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Regrets, I've had a few...

In the age of Facebook and Twitter, more than ever before, people are sharing their deep-held convictions and core beliefs with the world (as long as those are 140 characters or less.) This has resulted in many-a-bumper-sticker philosopher doling out pithy guidance on how to approach life. Others offer sarcasm that for me, strikes closer to truth.

At first glance, some of these memes do appear thoughtful and insightful. Most don't hold up well under any sort of scrutiny. My absolute least favorite, and the one I find most ridiculous?

"We only regret the chances we didn't take."

I always wonder what kind of weak minded person lacks the imagination to see that if you embrace life to the fullest and take all the chances that present themselves, odds are, you're going to take a few that are absolutely, horrendously, awfully bad? I know I've taken countless chances because (at the time) they sounded like fun. I can't even imagine NOT having made so very many huge mistakes, because at the time, I thought, "what the hell?" while at the same time knowing full well I would regret it.

I have done that not once. Not twice. But over and over and over again. I can more closely relate to Frank's words: "Regrets? I've had a few." I won't go so far as to say "too few to mention" because I've had a lot! I just won't mention them to protect the not-so-innocent. (Those of you who were there with me, you know who you are!)

And don't even get me started on regretting "relationships you were afraid to have." Is it just me, or haven't we all had one or two (or ten) of those regrettable relationships?

The problem with this "take chances, have no regrets" philosophy is it assumes that by not taking every chance that comes your way, you'll miss out on something. The reality is, when we choose one path, it precludes another. Having children precludes not having children. At some point in time, for women at least, the choice to not have children precludes having them. Saying, "I do" precludes saying "I will" or "Let's" to any other interesting person you may meet. Unless you want to take a chance on the relationship you should have been afraid to have, but weren't. Chances are, then you will really have some regrets! Even outside of marriage, anyone who's ever tried to be in one relationship while trying not to miss out on their chance with hot-hunky-guy/gal, has probably learned this and does regret "the relationship they weren't afraid to have" far more than those they were afraid to have and so didn't.

The people who would counsel, "Yes, but you learn from the bad choices and move on," again, have probably never tried to take all the chances and opportunities that came their way. Sometimes, the lessons have a high price, one that isn't worth the cost. Sometimes the consequences are irrevocable.  
When I was younger, I bought into this meme, even knowing that every choice has a consequence. (For those who think that word has too negative a connotation, how about "result"? And to you, I say you've just never fully embraced this philosophy or you would have had consequences!) I have always been afraid I'd miss out on something, so always tried to have it all. As a teen, I wanted to be a swimmer, and a party-girl, and a brainiac. Some things are just incompatible, and while I did swim, party, and get good enough grades to get a scholarship, I didn't excel at any of those things. My choice, which was really a lack of choice, resulted in my mediocrity at everything. Did I have fun pursuing a little bit of everything? Hell yes! But I'd go back and tell my 15-year-old self to make another choice.

Likewise, in college I wanted to have it all. Going to school in the Virgin Islands in the '80s, "ALL" turned out to be a lot more than I'd ever imagined it was. Traveling around the Caribbean opened up a whole new world to me, one with people, places, and things that I hadn't even known existed, and a lot of chances I wouldn't have had otherwise. I didn't want to miss out on any of it. And, for the most part, I didn't.
Amazingly, I survived...

I had a great time making every bad choice I possibly could and taking a lot of chances. Most of them were a LOT of fun at the time, even as I was thinking to myself, "Oh, I am sooooo going to regret this." And I did, eventually, regret many of those choices. Did I learn from them? Most of the time, no. I'm nothing if not persistent. I made many bad choices again and again and again because they were so much fun. I'd like to think I'd go back and make different choices, if I could do it all over again. But I probably wouldn't. There's a lot to be said for fun, regrets and all.

Even throughout most of my adult life, I've feared missing out on something so I've taken ridiculous, stupid, and sometimes even dangerous chances. The problem with the meme is we can't make two mutually exclusive choices, so no matter what path we follow, there's one we didn't take. And when we don't choose, we get to regret missing out on what might have been had we fully committed to one choice, and excluded the others

Although I regret many of the chances I've taken, I don't regret where my bad choices have led me. I've had a pretty phenomenal and adventuresome life. When I consider the consequences of the choices I might have made, my skin crawls at the alternate life I see (still in upstate New York, married (or more likely, divorced) with kids, driving a mini-van, being happy with a two-week vacation to somewhere warm...not that there's anything wrong with that if it's what you want.) But, we don't know what we don't know. Maybe I wouldn't miss the life I do have if I didn't know it was possible? Maybe without all of the experience that poor choices and taking chances have brought me, I could be content with that alternative?


The thought that I could be content, satisfied with my life, scares me even more than the regrets I have over things I've done. There are still so many more things I want to see and do in this great big world, so many mistakes to make. I hope I continue to have regrets, because without them, we aren't really living, we aren't taking chances, we're just existing.

My refrigerator magnet, pithy philosophical statement on life isn't that we only regret the chances we don't take, but instead: