“Forget regret, or life is yours to miss.” – Jonathan Larson (Playwright and Composer)
It is hard to forget the mistakes or missed opportunities of the past. They often cling to us like wet t-shirts. We would like to just put things behind us and move on, but memory will not always allow it. When people are very old or near-death, regrets may flood their minds. Why do we care so much about certain things when it is too late to do anything about them?
Many will regret not finishing their education. Leaving high school early or not going on to college may weigh down the memories of some. Others might just regret not paying attention in school. Some people get their high school diplomas or college degrees but admit later they did not learn much. If I may editorialize for a moment, I think it is a failing of our education system. Many just “skate” through and regret it later.
I took a year of French in college to satisfy a language requirement. Three years of Latin in high school did not help me any. When I graduated I can not say I knew any of it. That really was a case of just doing enough to pass. I could not imagine that I would be interested in learning French later in life. Now I study it on the language site Duolingo. I regret not learning it years ago when I had the chance.
Have we been too selfish? Should we have helped others more? Were the volunteer opportunities right for us? Did we miss out on charitable giving? Throughout our lives, we may spend so much time focusing on ourselves that we do not help family, friends, or community as much as we could have. Whether it is giving time, money, or both, there are usually a lot of options to help out. It is sad to look back and realize that you could have lent a helping hand to someone, had the time or resources to do so, and ended up doing nothing. When a hand is reached out to you, will you grab it or regret it later?
Standing Up for Others
There are times when friends, fellow students, co-workers, or community members are harassed or made fun of because of their color, ethnic background, religion, sexual orientation, or other reasons. It is often easy to ignore such things, especially if the name-calling is behind someone’s back. Did you stand up for the victim or did you let it go on?
It can be hard to insert yourself into the middle of someone’s harassment. If there is violence or possible violence involved, did you notify authorities? It is so tempting to just walk away, but will you regret it later? “I did not want to get involved,” is often the reason for not supporting others. Is that justified?
Being Too Critical
When we think back on the things we have said to friends and relatives, will we regret the words that we have spoken? This often crosses the minds of those later in life. Not everything that comes to mind needs to be said. Would it have been better if we had saved some of our criticism for a better time, or not have said anything at all? Words of encouragement may have been a better choice at times than words of negativity.
In business, we often try to find constructive criticism rather than pass along negative reviews. You may have heard the lyric “Accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.” Would that have been a better choice than to regret our words later?
Some people regret not getting divorced sooner. When the marriage can not be saved, it is time to move on. “We stayed together for the kids,” can turn into a lousy mistake,
When my parents sold our house and moved to a large apartment, it was so they could stay together until I finished grade school. I am certain both my brother and I would agree it was a terrible mistake. We were kids and we were not going to insert our opinions into the fray. At first, I was not even aware of what was going on, although I knew the marriage no longer worked. It was a nice apartment but a bad year for the family. Staying in a bad marriage can later be a major regret.
On the other hand, there are those who regret getting divorced. In a 2016 Avvo survey, 27 percent of women and 39 percent of men regretted their divorce. Did they give up too soon? Did they make a mistake? After five years, John and I got divorced, largely for financial reasons. I often debate that in my brain. Will I regret it someday?
When we are young we do not think about saving for retirement, but that is exactly what we should be doing. Even if it is just a small amount each month or two, we should be putting something away. It is the advice I most often hand out to my young friends. Many hit retirement age and do not have the resources to go on without working. Many who have to continue to work will regret not saving.
So many of us fail to learn the basics of economics. We just don’t think about what we will need in the future. I not only regret failing to grasp this concept early enough in life, but I also regret the fact that high schools rarely make students learn about budgeting and saving. This really comes to mind if you are in a financial bind.