I’ve always had a healthy mistrust of those who declare that they have no regrets in life. I mean, come on! Surely you regret something? From the inane: that date you wished you’d never taken to prom? Or the fantastic dress on sale that you declined to buy last winter and have thought of ever since? To the life changing: how you regret marrying a loser? Or wishing you had taken up a job offer 20 years ago that would have led you down an entirely different path?
A new survey in the U.K. of 1,000 women aged 25 to 39 years old discovered that the biggest regret of most women was: Not trying hard enough in school.
It made me think about how so many of us beat ourselves with a stick when we should just let it go. High school was how many years ago? Sure, passing those exams or scoring higher grades may have created different career opportunities — but every choice we make leads to a unique avenue we may not have walked down.
Second place in the survey? Not losing weight on a diet.
I wonder if men answered this survey, where this would be on their list — if at all? It saddens me that weight is clearly such an issue on women’s minds. Don’t we have enough pressure on ourselves in this day and age without having to feel like a failure because of a diet?
I genuinely try not to regret things in my life because it is such a wasted emotion. For a start, you can’t turn the clock back — there is no undoing what was said, what was done. And, as Lucille Ball once memorably said, “I would rather regret the things I have done than the things that I have not.”
While yes, we may end up wishing we hadn’t blown our savings on a designer pair of shoes that give us 25 blisters just by looking at them, surely a bigger regret is saying no to those tickets to see U2 back in the summer of ’93 (because they cost so much money) and then spending the next 20 odd years hearing what a great time your buddies had.
There are some regrets that I can understand, such as number four on the list: Not getting on the property ladder. With the U.K.’s housing shortage and the exorbitant cost of having a roof over your head, no wonder so many believe they will never get on the ladder at all. “If only I’d bought back in 1998 …” But what people fail to think about is that maybe they would have lost their job, failed to pay their mortgage, and had said house repossessed. I truly believe that life has a funny way of bringing you around to where you were meant to be all along. Just like in the brilliant Sliding Doors film where Gwyneth Paltrow’s character Anna ends up pregnant no matter which way the story went.
Some things are simply not worth wasting our energy on, like number five on the list: Regretting spending the night with someone I shouldn’t. Ladies — WE ALL HAVE KISSED SOME TOADS. Move on. No man is going to regret any notch on his belt, so why do we in a ridiculous double standard not forgive ourselves for a night of too many margaritas and a need for some male attention? In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter. It’s a shame we couldn’t go to the clinic featured in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and have these memories erased, thus never having to feel one iota of regret about them again.
Regret is so ambivalent — we regret not having the perfect wedding — but we also regret getting married. We regret having children, but we also regret settling down. We regret choosing the wrong career path, but also focusing too much on our careers. What we need to do is give ourselves a break!
When I think back to the article I saw on a palliative nurse who listed the top regrets of those dying and reflecting on their lives — it feels so much more profound and sad. There, people regretted working so hard and wished they had spent more time with their family. Another regret: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” Also, they wished they had kept in touch with their friends, and perhaps most poignant of all, “I wish I’d let myself be happier.”
But as they approach death, it is too late to do anything about it. So really, I look to the wisdom of one of my children’s favorite films, Kung Fu Panda. As the wise turtle Master Oogway says, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called ‘the present.’” We need to forgive ourselves for all our mistakes (I regret wasting so many years fretting about my career) and let go of the things we chose not to do.
There is no point in regretting not being spontaneous enough (number six) or not being a good enough friend (number seven), and instead we should focus on doing those things now. Instead of dwelling on what we perceive as failures, we should instead write a list about all the things we do well — all the things we are so glad we did. Writing gratuity lists on a daily basis brought me far more joy and sense of well being than stewing over past mistakes.
While I could regret not being a better mom (number twelve), instead I’m going to think about all the ways I can be a great mom. I’m going to forgive myself for never visiting New Zealand’s south island in 1995, and I’ll just put it on my “places to visit” list instead. And today, if I don’t quite live up to all my hopes for myself, instead of having regret, I’m going to borrow a quote from my favorite film heroine: “Tomorrow is another day.”
Amen, Scarlett.More On