These are some thoughts inspired by a conversation I had with my fiance about how, at just 28 years old, most of my regrets still sit in front of me. It explores how regrets are also rather complicatedly mixed up in taking the risks in life that ensure I live the sort of life I, and others, can be proud of. A life lived to the full.
Regret rests in the past. That is what we are told.
Regret resides in those residual reminders of actions, or inactions, of days, months, or years gone by. The mantra, so often used by oneself to torment oneself is that ‘if only I had another chance, I would have done it all so differently’.
This perspective is one that comes with age. Age forces regrets into memories of days, months, and years that now rest in our personal rear view mirrors, distorted by the lens of time that we all place over our memories.
And yet, even with the most painful of regrets, the ones that loom largest in our memories, the ones that haunt us without warning in the middle of the night, we know where they are. If we have the courage we can turn to face them, we can take action to rectify them, or at the very least, we can learn to live with them.
At the age of 28 though there is something far more terrifying, in my mind at least, than my existing regrets. This is the concept of all the potential future regrets that rest in front of me, in my future. Sitting on the side of the mantra of ‘I would have done it differently’ that still holds the agency to enact the change that could steer myself and others away from regret is ironically both terrifying and debilitating.
My main regrets sit in my unknown future not the past. This is a challenge unique to the privileged and the young – neither of whom normally realise their predicament.
Like a rabbit caught in headlights I can see paths roll out in front of me leading to actions and inactions that hold all the potential for regret. I can see them all too clearly but choose to keep going, to keep walking.
Why? Why not stop now? To explain, I must tell you a little of myself.
I write these words with thousands of miles resting between me and the friends and family that I grew up with. Each mile serves as a barrier for why I can’t, or worst choose not to, spend the time with the people that mean the most to me.
The future holds a deceptiveness that leads you to think that it is infinite. Just as you fail to appreciate the beauty of the rising of the sun because you think it will always happen, so you can also fail to take the time or appreciate the beauty in being able to pick up the phone and speak to your parents, friends or loved ones.
Despite the warnings, the heart attacks, the high blood pressure, the years passing of my parents, I convince myself that the future will hold the same potential to always be able to pick up the phone, jump on a plane or even send an email to them.
This is of course not true. Life is finite.
Simply, you never appreciate what you have until it is gone.
I am all too aware that it is this that holds the potential for so much regret.
With this foresight, there is a question of why not take action now – look for a job back home sooner, close to friends and family? Why not take action to limit that potential for regret?
To answer this question, an explanation of my parents is needed. From the earliest age they encouraged me grasp opportunities with both hands. To fight for them and to appreciate them to the fullest.
All too clearly I remember both my parents repeating the phrase ‘just give it a go’ throughout my childhood.
Every day I feel the importance of living life, of giving it a go. I push myself to do things, to be bothered, and most of all to appreciate every bit of it – even the supposed failures. I think for that alone my parents are proud.
Life has thrown me around geographically. It dropped me on this earth in the UK but has since taken me all over. I sit now in East Africa thousands of miles away from the parents that made me who I am. I live, I make mistakes, and I regret them. But even these regrets I try my hardest to cherish and to savour because I know that these regrets are signpost to risks taken, choices made and a life lived to the full.
The biggest potential regret of not spending enough time with my parents should they die before me rests in the future alongside other potential regrets. I have no idea how I will react if suddenly the ones I care about are taken from me, but for now at least, that is a question for tomorrow. Today I plan to live every second to it’s full.
My regrets reside in front of me, but so does the rest of my life. I know I can’t have one without the other.
As always, please do contribute comments and thoughts below.
2 responses to “A future full of potential regrets”
Having just moved abroad I understand where you’re coming from – the thought of leaving friends and family, particularly my last remaining elderly grandparent, was not an easy one. I’m so grateful to live in an age when all you need is an internet connection to be able to see and interact with loved ones from wherever you are in the world.
The wider question of future regrets is also mirrored in the worn out ‘having it all’ mantra that seems to be branded into the brain of every young women today. It hasn’t even happened yet but already I’m questioning the what ifs and potential pros and cons of what job I take, how long we stay in the US, if we should have children etc.
You may not have had all the adventures you’ve had were it not for encouraging parents to give you a nudge when you needed one. I think we’re at an age where we’re starting to live for ourselves, creating our own values rather than following those of our parents. It’s scary but it’s also (for the most part) exciting.
And if it helps, know that all your friends are so proud of you both for stepping off the path well-trodden.
Something in the thoughts of most workers overseas – very interesting to hear your thoughts Steve, thanks for sharing. I hope all is going well, have a great weekend…