My mom has a rule – no going backwards. Every time we took a family trip we knew everything had better be packed, because even if we were on oxygen and forgot our tanks we weren’t going back once the car started moving forward. I remember once when my dad, after a long battle with multiple myeloma, forgot his cane on a trip to Colonial Williamsburg. He looked at mom and said, “we’re not going back are we?” They both burst into laughter, but they didn’t go back. Dad had to buy a cane in Williamsburg.
I think mom was always a change warrior, understanding that while life might be about learning from the past, that’s not the same as looking backwards. I’ve witnessed more individuals and companies crash and burn because they were so busy looking backwards or left to right (at the competition) they didn’t see what was coming directly at them.
If a life is lived forward, there is no time for regrets. They come when we judge what’s already occurred. The problem with regrets is that we can’t change the past, we can’t fix what we are fixating on. Therefore, my theory is that we judge the past when we are afraid to move forward. We create an albatross of regrets, and then say we can’t succeed because it’s hanging so heavily around our neck.
However, let’s face facts: there are times we are going to look into the rearview mirror and judge what we see. The trick is to use any regret as a catalyst rather than an albatross. If we regret the fact that we didn’t spend enough time with our children, then we start spending more time with them now (no matter how old they might be). If we regret that we didn’t get that college degree, then we sign up for one class even if it’s on-line. Regrets without action become pathetic excuses. If we take action, then we turn the regret into a catalyst that propels us forward.
When my father was just a few weeks from passing away, I asked him if he had any regrets. I’m sure he appreciated me bringing this up when he was actively dying from cancer, but he had the kindness to answer me anyway. He said that he regretted the fact that he didn’t spend enough time with us (his family), and spent all of his time being a minister. He felt that people in the church got all of his attention. While he did regret his time management, he didn’t regret his career choice. He spent his life serving people, and although sometimes there were certain church members that drove him a lot closer to experiencing hell than heaven, he loved what he did.
Dad moved the conversation forward. He pointed to all of his degrees (he had two Masters and a Doctorate), and he said “None of this matters, Donna. It doesn’t matter how many degrees you have, what kind of house you live in or what you drive. It doesn’t matter what kind of clothes you wear. What matters is how you treat people, especially those you love. Be kind. Be compassionate. Open doors for people and smile at them. And know that, in some way, everybody’s in a little bit of pain.”
Today, start living a life where you are kind to people rather than judgmental. Set a mental alarm that rings every time you start talking about regrets. Write down the thing you are lamenting, and turn it into an action. Then let that regret go just like that red balloon on that French movie we all saw as a kid. Let it float away so that you can move forward. Because, just like my mom always taught us, there’s no going back.
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