Do you know those days where everything seems to go wrong?
From sunrise to sundown, its a 24-hour symphony of daily grind horrors. A hailstorm of shit. The motion papers weren’t filed, your rear tire is flat, Snowball needs an ACL reconstruction surgery, resulting in a $5,000 veterinarian bill. A little “Fuck you,” “Oh shit,” “I forgot,” “fuck you.”
My day was a little like that.
Maybe springing forward threw my universe off its axis. Maybe earth is under alien attack. Maybe I’ve just got a heavy case of the Monday’s, but things (everywhere) have seemed really off the past few days.
Or, maybe its just me. I’ve made some mistakes lately, and they sting like a B-B gunned hive of honey bees. I’m carrying regret, and regret weighs heavy. Regret is unavoidable, but its also invaluable.
Regrets are imperfections we’ve created in our lives through a failure to follow our instincts. Regrets are the by-products of times when we’ve failed to do the right things for ourselves. That’s why looking at them hurts so much: we basically led ourselves astray.
We feel it in stages. First, denial, then bewilderment, then alienation (from who we imagine ourselves to be), and then an intense desire to punish ourselves. And regret, by nature, is perseverative: its sends you on a relentless cycle of denial/bewilderment/alienation/punishment that, when it meets the end, just starts over from the beginning.
As painful as regret is to look at, we need it to help us grow into who we are meant to be. Without regret, we would never learn what it takes or doesn’t take to overcome obstacles, or understand why we made it or experienced a failure. And here’s the kicker. Regret is totally natural in the world we live in.
In today’s society, innumerable choices are constantly thrown at us. About everything. From what kind of detergent you should buy to where you should attend college. Facing so many options, and notably, the fear of choosing the wrong one, we often to opt out of the stressful process entirely: we are paralyzed into refusing to choose. When we do overcome the fear inherent in making the incorrect choice, most of the time, we are dissatisfied with the path we chose because we imagine a better outcome with one of the unchosen options. In sum, making a decision about what to do for your career, or even how you choose to spend your free time, could very easily lead to regret because you imagine a brighter, happier life with one of the other scenarios. But that’s biology, not you. Lower your expectations a bit for this week. You made the right decision for you at that time, and pat yourself on the back for being where you are in the first place. For this week, limit your expectations to trying to make tomorrow a little better than today.
So, how do we take regret and turn it on its head? How do we take our pain and become better for it?
We need to forgive ourselves, and realize, as DeLa said last week, that we have to walk before we can crawl. We are all works in progress. Without the painful stuff, the really painful lessons, we would not grow and change. At least, not in the earth-shaking, movie-inspiring, life-changing ways we are meant to. Without experiencing those honest looks at failure, we could never be the strong, whole adults were supposed to be. If we had perfect internal self-maps, there wouldn’t be much to look forward to. So bad news is, your going to make a hell of lot more mistakes. Good news is, you’re going to keep getting better and better because of them.
Do not hate yourself for your flaws. Do not criticize yourself for any reactions to your regret. You have a right to struggle with the feelings, but face them, don’t run away.
To determine if you are repeatedly making the same mistakes, consider patterns. That’s not fun either, but if something isn’t working, if you’re doing something that does not make you a better you, it might be time to re-think it. Breaking habits can be difficult, but if you recognize it as something that continually makes you unhappy, you can commit to eliminating it from your life.
See the humor. Sometimes, there’s no humor. Then find the Black Humor. Black Humor is better than nothing, and it sure does get the “worst day of my life” taste out of your mouth. In all seriousness, seeing the humor in your situation, forcing glimmers of light on a black canvas, will make you feel better than you expect it to.
Think long and hard about your regret, and assign fault. Was it your fault? Someone else’s fault? How do you rectify the situation? Making peace with regret starts with admitting to yourself that you failed, essentially. Be gentle with yourself, but acknowledge the flaw and explore how you will change from here on out.
The Koolaid of today’s society tells us “live with no regrets,” “put the past behind you,” “stay positive,” etcetera. But we should not run away from our mistakes or regret, they are one of the most helpful tools we have for moving towards our best lives.