Everybody has regrets. Those who say they don’t just haven’t realised it yet, because regrets come in many sizes, shapes, and forms, and can impact people very differently. It’s what you do with this feeling that matters most.
Regrets can be imbedded in the mundane. You might have decided to not answer a question during a lecture, despite having known the answer. Perhaps you were uncertain, or maybe you were just too shy. Someone else spoke up, got it right, and received the praise. You regret not mustering up the confidence, but you brush it off because it isn’t a big deal and it didn’t change the course of your life. Think about the big picture — don’t let a small smudge on the canvas ruin your masterpiece.
There are also regrets that affected others. Things that you might have said which have hurt people. You now know that those moments were all because you were in a dark place, and wanted to push anyone who came a bit too close away. You wanted to hurt them because it would hurt you, and feeling pain was better than feeling nothing. Your actions and words caused tears and heartbreak. Because of this, you and these people are no longer friends. You’ve apologised profusely and expressed your guilt and shame. It didn’t change the outcome, but that’s all you could’ve done. It still saddens you but you respect their choice to cut ties. You decide to hold onto the happy memories, and only let those positive snapshots define you because you’re not a bad person. At the same time, you take this mistake — this regret — and learn from it, because you can’t let history repeat itself. It’s all about perspective.
Then comes the regrets that you’re still not over. Things that you didn’t say to your parents because… well, actually you don’t really know the reason behind it. Anyways, you pray to all the deities that you can think of, for just one night where they appear in your dreams, so you can make up for all the missed I love you’s and all the hugs and kisses that they tried to give you — but you pried them away because you thought you were such a grown-up and they were embarrassing. You now know that no matter what happens, you will always be their baby. At the same time, you can’t change the fact that they’re both dead and the only warmth you can feel is an embrace you give to yourself which you pretend is from them. Maybe you never want to get over this regret, and that’s okay too, because it’s a thread of connection you’re afraid to lose. You take this heartache and grow around the grief, then tell yourself to never take your loved ones for granted and to always show them how you feel. You don’t need to forget in order to move on.
Come to think about it, regret really is a funny thing. Technically, it’s a concoction of emotions governed by disappointment, causing you to dwell in what could have been. Now, you don’t have a machine to go back in time and undo the past, but you do have one to control how you feel and think about the situation, and what to do going forward — it’s called living.
Nobody else is a professional when it comes to your life. If you’re dealing with regret at the moment, please don’t let what you did and didn’t say or do haunt you, or worse, punish you. Take the unfortunate decision that you made and turn it into an experience you can learn from. If it was a missed opportunity, then perhaps it wasn’t meant to be — your bright and brilliant self will find many more to come. And if it’s making it up to someone who isn’t around anymore, then use the thought as a tool to ground yourself in challenging times, or as a way to motivate you to thrive and excel. Everything will work out eventually, even if you can’t see it just yet, I promise.
Illustration: Victoria Cheng