Sunday, December 8, 2013


A couple weekends ago I went to see If/Then featuring the incredible Idina Menzel. Menzel is perhaps Ash's favorite performer and she's one of mine also. I first saw her in Rent, (still my favorite musical) and subsequently in Wicked (a close second). For those Us Weekly readers, she's also married to Taye Diggs. Talented couple, eh?

Anyway, her newest venture taps into the questions what if...and if then. For example, what if I had chosen to stay in Phoenix for college (ASU) instead of traveling to San Diego? What if i continued to pursue my basketball career? Or, If I would have accepted that job offer after college in finance, where would I be today? If I didn't make that stupid comment in front of 600 people in 2006, I never would've been 'That Guy".

Think about all your what if's and if then' there's quite a

The play mirrors two parallel journeys for Menzel's character. Each chronicles different choices in identical situations. One choice leads her to work as a teacher, the other for city government. One choice she winds up with an army veteran, the other choice...her liberal squatter friend from Brooklyn. Don't want to play spoiler so etc.. etc...

The play was excellent as expected. No regrets about seeing it :).

It got me thinking about regret.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but our society seems to really frown upon regret. Terms like carpe diem and YOLO (which I modified to YOLT...changing the last letter of t to 'today' - as a way of mocking it) are ubiquitous. I'm all for living in the moment, taking opportunities and risks, but I think this motto has an unnecessary side-effect. It tends to influence people to make rash or impulsive decisions. I should know - I have a real problem with indulging in split-second decisions. In fact, I'm one of the worst culprits of subscribing to those 'live each day like it's your last' cheap cliche's.

However, I also have a generous amount of regret.

Many of my impulsive (or otherwise) decisions were poor. I've invested in stocks I had no business trading. With little to no research or analysis I've put money into companies based on a tip or momentum only to be a step late or bait for a pump and dump.

I've screamed and honked at cars in front of me only to see an ambulance come zooming by a few seconds later. I've delayed swapping out a loose cleat leading to a crash at 30 miles per hour. In high school I slept with my best friend's girlfriend almost severing our relationship entirely. These are just a select few of the poor choices I've made.

I've made MANY poor choices. I could list thousands more. But my point is that it's okay to regret certain choices or actions we've done. We should regret them. It's how we learn from them. By losing or almost losing a best friend is how I learned how to value that friendship and make amends. The losses I've taken in stocks teach me to take my time and not react impulsively to news or phony tips.

I think it's important to regret. It's unhealthy to obsessively dwell on what/if's and if/then's because we'll drive ourselves crazy. Like most things, there's a grey area.

I always cringe when I hear people say, "I have no regrets!" Then how can you learn from your mistakes? How can you make better decisions moving forward?

Sometimes the response is, 'Well, I admit it was a bad choice...but still I don't regret it' Why? Just because you can't undo the past doesn't mean we can't admit our previous follies. It shows maturity and it shows reflection. It shows an ability to take responsibility and admit fault. And that can be hard to do.

I don't espouse living in an if/then, what/if world. It'd be too emotionally taxing and exhausting. But it is okay to regret some of our past, it's humbling and means we're wiser now in the present.

What do you guys think? Do you have regret, or do you think regret is uniformly negative???


Anonymous said...

Very wise and thought provoking column. Since I think that mistakes are our best teachers, it is folly for people to flipantly say that they have no regrets, when they look over their lives. Your article dealing with what if? so reminded me of the 2004ish movie,"Sliding Doors" Do rent it if you have not seen it...It certainly deals with the what ifs of life. Great romantic movie, too.

Anonymous said...

A lot of things being addressed here. In the first place, is it possible to make always 100% correct decisions in a life of perhaps 80 years which would include at least 10,000 choices? Of course not. That being settled one realizes that there necessarily HAS TO BE mistakes. Then we have the mental gymnastic of either denying or accepting our role in the disaster we created. Acceptance would lead us towards regret,it might, in those more complicated and obtuse souls lead one to say that it provided a learning experience from which I shall build therefore it was valuable and without regret. How else can humans, justify their behavior? Certainly none of us would be accurate in saying we never made a mistake. And certainly if we were candid and honest would admit to regret.

Anonymous said...

Socrates believed that the the "unexamined life is not worth living"...that the purpose of human life was personal and spiritual growth. We are unable to grow toward greater understanding of our true nature unless we take the time to examine and reflect upon our life. As another philosopher, Santayana, observed, "He who does not remember the past is condemned to repeat it." So it is that this examination of life would lead to realizing the mistakes....the what ifs....the regrets...leading to better understanding...leading to better growth.

Anonymous said...

Regret will always be one of our most useful tools to promote growth and understanding and better wisdom. Great men and women always pay attention to their mistakes. Of course, we regret them.

Anonymous said...

All that needs to be said on this subject is a life without any regret is a life not worth living,