Regret is such a perfect dream killer.
It’s brilliant because it asks you to spend valuable time and energy and heart and soul on something that can’t be changed.
Regret–true, ugly, gross regret–that is riding shotgun with shame, asks you to focus on things that can’t be undone.
A mistake that can’t be unmade.
A decision that can’t be undone.
A path that can’t be untaken.
Those are the things regret tries to get lost in, the things you can’t do anything about. If you could, then you wouldn’t wallow in regret, you’d wade into response. You’d have a next action you could take or move you could make, but that’s the last thing regret wants. It wants you paralyzed and frozen and stuck.
Which is where I found myself in the middle of writing my book Quitter. It was painful to detail the mistakes I had made as an employee over the years. It was hard to be honest and throw the bad attitude and the bad decisions on the table and really look at them. And, in the middle of that process, I wanted to stop moving forward. I wanted to sit down in my regrets and give up writing, give up moving forward on the book, despite my belief that it could help a lot of people. (Maybe even because of my belief, because if there’s one thing regret hates, it’s the idea of a lot of people getting helped.)
In the weeks surrounding that wrestle, my 7 year old said something that forever changed the way I look at regret.
One night in January at dinner, L.E. told me a story about something bad that happened to her at school. (When you’re 7, a bad day can simply mean someone refused to play with you on the playground.) When we asked her about it at the kitchen table a few weeks later, her response was perfect:
“Well that day is far behind us. I don’t care about it anymore.”
I love that little kids associate distance with time. It wasn’t yesterday or last week or last month. To her, it was “far behind.” Whatever regret she had was too far away. The distance was too great to matter anymore. The same was true of all the things that kept banging away when I looked at my failure parade from the past few years. Those days were too far behind me. I couldn’t care about them anymore. There was distance there, that I needed to recognize and respect.
If you’ve been wrestling with a mistake you made in the past and there’s something you can do about it, great. That’s a response.
But if you’re obsessed right now about something you can’t change in your past, let it go. That’s a regret.
And yesterday’s regrets will forever try to murder your ability to change today.