Some words are automatic triggers that call up certain experiences or situations in our lives. I suspect that the word “regret” is one of those. We all have things in our lives that we regret: choices we’ve made, things we’ve said or didn’t say, actions we’ve taken or chose not to take. Usually when we think of something we regret its a negative thought and may even stir up temporary sadness or anger. And, sometimes people stay mired in thoughts about things they regret they didn’t do because they think their life would have been happier or more fulfilling if they had made a different choice.
Rather than being stuck in sadness or anger about our regrets I’d like to suggest that not only can we learn from our regrets so that we can leave lingering ones behind us. We can also gain some insight into how to choose when we know that either choice is going to create some amount of regret.
The idea for this blog came from the book, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. The book is about two young girls growing up in Charleston, South Caroline on a plantation in the 1800’s. One of the girls is white, Sarah, and the other girl is black, Handful. Their lives are very different in many ways; one is a slave girl and has no money or opportunities, the other is the daughter of the plantation owner and seemingly has all the money and options she could want. But, in truth, they are both trapped in a culture that dictates who they can or cannot be. The story chronicles their lives as they struggle with the limitations and expectations they live with to create the best life they can for themselves.
Both girls make choices throughout the story that change the course of their lives. Some of these choices are good and some they regret. But there is one choice Sarah has to make at a mid-point in her life that seems to offer an opportunity for regrets no matter which choice she makes.
Sarah has been asked to marry a man she believes she is in love with and has hoped for some time that he would propose marriage to her. In the meantime, Sarah has finally found the calling she has been seeking all of her life. But now Sarah realizes she can’t have both. She will have to make a choice between the man she loves and the calling she has finally found.
Some time later, after Sarah had made her choice she was reflecting on what her life might have looked like if she had made a different choice. And as she considers that she makes this statement. “I believe that I would have regretted either choice I made. I wanted them both but that wasn’t going to be possible. I realized then that I’d chosen the regret I knew I could live with best.”
I was listening to this chapter on Audible as I was driving and I immediately pushed the pause button and thought about what Sarah had just said. I knew I had found a quote that would be the focus of a new blog. (I repeated that line several times, trying to make sure I wouldn’t forget it in case I couldn’t find those ten words again in the book.Searching through Kindle pages of a book for specific words isn’t easy!)
Its been a couple of days now since I first heard those words. That has given me time to think back about a couple decisions I made when I was truly torn between the options. Both options offered opportunities that I might regret not taking. For one of the decisions, I chose the regrets I could best live with but I didn’t make that choice for the other one. And, three years later, I reversed that choice. I’ll save that story for another blog.
However, that’s the view looking back. What if I used this thought in the process of making the choice by asking myself, “Which of the regrets resulting from these two choices will I be able to live with best?” I’m going to keep these words where I can readily see them so that I can be proactive in my use of it the next time I encounter a truly difficult decision.