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Be Grateful for Regret

finding the lessons in mistakes
Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.❞ -Haruki Murakami

Looking back on my life I start to wonder where I would be if I took a more traditional path through life. The path you're supposed to take is to get good grades in high school, get into a good college, graduate with honors, get a good job, and move up the ladder. I didn't do that. The story I tell myself is that it wasn't available to me. It was. It just would have been more challenging for me.

As I'm looking back I start to feel a lot of regret. How could I be so dumb? Why couldn't I have gone to class in high school more? Why did I have to skip college for a few years? Why did I go to technical school before transferring to the university? By the time I got my first professional job at nearly 26 years old, those who followed the more traditional path were already on their second or third promotion. Because of my poor choices, I'm so far behind. I think about how much longer I'm going to have to work. I get embarrassed about being in my late twenties and still working an entry-level job. I'm in a dark place.

Then I realize that all of my negative emotion is driven by hindsight. Of course I would have made different choices if I had known the future. I'm not entirely sure I would have made the "right" choices if I rewound the universe and started it over again. I think about what would have happened if I followed the "right" course of action. I'm not good at figuring out where I would be if I made different choices - I only know that it would be different from how it is now. It's quite possible I could have a boring life. The truth is, I have no idea how my life would have turned out if I made one different choice, not to mention making a dozen different choices.

I realize I can be grateful for the life that I have. I can be grateful for the lessons I've learned. I can be grateful for the resiliency I've built.

I can't change the past. Feeling sorry for myself can be helpful if it's part of the grieving process, but there comes a point when it's up to me to determine how long I want to keep feeling bad. I'm thankful for what I have, for what I've learned, and for all the new tools I get to use as I go forward with my life.

Dwelling on the past doesn't help me in the future unless I learned the lessons that were available to me.

The same is true for you.


Regret is in many ways a unique emotion because it doesn't so much relate to something that happened to us, but rather something that didn't happen. With regret, we compare the current state of our lives with what we think might or might not have happened if we made a different choice in our past.