Sunday, November 23, 2014

November Regrets

We're in that really weird time of year right now where the days are short and the dark nights feel disorientingly long. I never can quite get used to the time at which it gets dark in Salt Lake City. Night after night, as the darkness sets in, I think it's much later than it is.

I believe it's 10:00, although it's only 6:30. I'm ready to climb into bed on a weekend night even though the same time on a week night would see me just leaving the office.

There's something so strange about winter night time. The darkness. The cold. It makes the world stay inside. The streets are quiet. Peaceful, yet lonely. And it's always odd for me to think that those same streets at another time of year but the same time of day are bustling and hustling and alive with excitement of a much different season.

Now, in November, my city streets are contemplative. Dead. Simple. And as the year starts dying down, I always become more reflective. Sort of like, probably, the elderly person at the end of a very long and active life.

I think about the way the year has unfolded. The way I have unfolded it. I think about the people I've known and the struggles I've lived. I wonder how I would counsel myself at the beginning of it, knowing what I know now, if I could go to the beginning of it and counsel myself.

Would I tell myself to avoid someone altogether or would I let myself live the burdens of heartache, knowing that heartache can sometimes be the best reality check on our priorities and decisions?

Would I beg my former self to react differently to evolving circumstances or would I decide that I'm content enough now and it's not worth risking a change of the status quo at the hands of empowered hindsight?

Would telling myself to avoid hurting someone else be fruitless because the counsel would be interpreted by a former version of myself who lacks the wisdom and capacity to understand it?

People say you should live your life without regrets. But I don't think those people believe you should live your life without mistakes. So that just means that you're supposed to live your life in some way that allows you not to regret your mistakes.

I don't know how to do that. I don't know whether that means that we're supposed to avoid making the kinds of mistakes you're supposed to regret or whether it means that you're not supposed to regret any kind of mistakes at all.

Regret is an odd feeling. Usually an unproductive one. It doesn't make the past different. It often does nothing more than taint our attitude about it. Maybe that's what those people mean. It's a waste of life to regret. So rather than regret the errors, it's better to contemplate them. Digest them. Allow them to build wisdom within us.

We spend a lot of time wondering how we might have done things differently. Maybe that's not a pointless pursuit. Maybe it helps us better navigate our present choices when we thoroughly analyze the past. But in excess, it's probably a waste of time. And it might be harmful, inasmuch as it causes us to exhaust the same emotional capital needed to try to figure out how we're supposed to act now.

I don't know.

And maybe it doesn't matter whether I know. But my mind just keeps running. Probably because it's that time of year and the nights are feeling disorientingly long.

~It Just Gets Stranger

21 comments:

  1. I feel that we shouldn't regret anything that we have done whether they are mistakes or not. I feel that way because we always learn from our mistakes and regretting what we did in the past won't change a single thing. I think the mistakes in my life have made me the person I am today. They all have somehow helped me and made me see things differently when I think about them. No one is perfect therefore we all have to make mistakes and use them to our best ability.

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  2. You do good kiddo.

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  3. Here's my philosophy on regret - it's simply a waste of time. The way I look at it is not simply because my life choices have molded me into the human I am today but through the lens that even in the most heart breaking of choices there was still at least a second's worth of happiness. I've had my fair share of ups and downs, losses and gains and even though life has weighed much heavier on the end of sadness and anger, all the joy and happiness in my life will ALWAYS outweigh those negative moments. I would never, not in a million kajillion years, regret a second's worth of happiness. Life is just simply too short for that. We all make decisions because we try to do what's best for us and despite some of those decisions being incredibly self-destructive at times, they still bring us a moment of joy, happiness and/or inner peace. Never take back those moments because those moments are the most teachable moments for ourselves and for others.

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    1. Love this and the post. Thanks.

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  4. Personally, I don't regret any mistakes that I have made. Sometimes that's a conscious choice that I have to make, to not let myself regret them, to remind myself that as awful as they felt at the time, I have learnt so much from my mistakes and wouldn't be the person that I am today without having made them. And I'm very happy to be who I am right now.

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  5. I feel like regret is good only insofar as it provides the impetus for positive change. The whole learning from your mistakes so you don't repeat them thing. Once you've been able to move past and move on, regret only holds you back--but if you didn't regret something in the first place, why would you work to avoid it in the future?

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    1. Agreed. I think it's a matter of if regrets consume you or change you.

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    2. Great post Brandon. Those are my thoughts exactly, except said way better then I ever could have said.

      If you don't learn from your mistakes then you're just destined to repeat them. Learn from your mistakes, no matter what they are or how bad you think they are, and let go of that regret.

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  6. wait!!!!! hold the presses.. I assume that you wrote this post to make yourself seem more "relatable" to us Stranger. I was under the impression that you were perfect in every way. Don't ruin our fantasy of you living in a magical salt lake city wonderland. A place where you run around with Ollie in slow motion and both your hair blow in the wind.

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    1. Well the slow motion machine has been malfunctioning recently so once that's all fixed up we'll be back in business.

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    2. LOL to this exchange!

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  7. This is beautiful writing. Thank you for this.

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  8. I don't think it's possible to live a life completely free of regret. Unless you're one of those people that doesn't have normal emotions. Sometimes I wish I was one of those people, but then I remember they're usually sociopaths.

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    1. I have to deal with my wife's ex's new wife who has narcissistic personality disorder, megalomania, and sociopathy (if not outright psychopathy) and so, I much prefer guilt, remorse, humility and regret to egotism, self-absorbed self-aggrandizement, and arrogant stupidity. So, thanks for not being a sociopath. :D

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  9. I think the answer to your question about what kind of mistakes are ok is buried in this beautifully-worded question:

    "Would telling myself to avoid hurting someone else be fruitless because the counsel would be interpreted by a former version of myself who lacks the wisdom and capacity to understand it?"

    Error is the best teacher.

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  10. Wonderful writing. You have captured the feeling that has been weighing on me but couldn't adequately describe it. Thank you Eli

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  11. Everything, no matter what you did, has led you to this point. Any change or deviation in that path could lead to a very different outcome of your life. I sometimes look back and wish I had not dated this person, and should have dated that person instead. Or why did I have to do that stupid thing...if only I had not done it, I wouldn't be emotionally scarred right now or be dwelling on that past moment. Etc...

    The problem with thinking that way, is that you also have to think of the outcome of that change. "Had I not dated her, I would never have learned to be independent like I am now, which would have changed where I lived, which may have changed who I dated next, which meant I wouldn't have met my beautiful wife and I would never have had my two wonderful boys." If I had changed that one thing, if I had done things even slightly different...the outcome would mean the life as I know it could possibly vanish. And that just isn't worth it to me, no matter how much heartache or emotional scarring I've had in my life.

    So next time you think back on what you wished you could change, think about everyone and everything in your life, and think about what life would be like without Rebecca, Daniel, Jolyn, Hannah, etc... because that one change could have led you down a different path. So, as stated above by others, make mistakes, regret doing them and then learn from those mistakes. Once you've learned from them you can let them go, and move on.

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  12. The only situations to regret are the ones that we choose not to learn from. No experience is wasted if we can learn something and grow from it

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  13. I super agree with everyone. I wish I could practice what's being preached here, but I'm working on it. And I like to think that if my mistakes have made me more compassionate towards the mistakes other people make, then there's a rhyme and a reason to them. Yeah, that's right, I just worked a little John Denver in there.

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  14. I went to three different high schools. Had I graduated from the SECOND one (the only one that acknowledges me as an alumna), I may have married the first boyfriend. NO IDEA where I'd be right now, so I can't regret my graduation choice (and yes, it was MY choice).
    Am currently married (for five years) to my college sweetheart, twenty years after we dated. If I had married him back then, he wouldn't have been "broken" by the girls he dated in the meantime, but I also wouldn't have learned all of the life-skills I gained in that 20 years. Would we still have made it to Los Angeles? Would children have kept us in god-forsaken North Carolina? Would I have ever learned ballroom dancing, or Script Supervision, or gotten my SAG card? I don't know the answer to these questions, and it doesn't matter.
    The only "regret" worth working out is that of having hurt a friend or loved one. But once the sorrow is expressed and forgiveness is either attained OR NOT, then it's time to move on and get back to living in the NOW.

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