rant: no regrets? i call bullshit
Every so often, usually when I least expect it, I encounter someone who claims to “have no regrets”. In my experience, the kind of person who has no regrets is also the kind of person to announce their ‘regretlessness’ at random moments and to random people. Long airport lines and uneasy elevator rides. That’s where Barry will tell you he’s had some ups and downs, young lady, but he’d “do it all again!” Awkward silence. “No regrets!” Cool story, Barry, but I’m just trying to get to work. And while we’re at it, really? Nothing? You don’t regret a thing?
Maybe this is some millennial nonsense, but I amass new regrets daily. It’s basically my go-to mode of living. Left my lunch at home: regrets. Drank a six-pack because ‘Fri-yay’: more regrets. Forgot to pay my phone bill, cut my own hair, left the washing until Sunday and now it’s starting to rain. It’s not that I’m some darkly pessimistic ball of doom obsessing over my every mistake, but I rarely sit down at the end of the week and think, yup, good job, wouldn’t change a thing. “Regrets keep you honest,” is what I would have said to Barry if he hadn’t sauntered out of the elevator into his regret-free future. I’m not about to pretend I’m happy to be hungover, or to have a basket of dirty undies and no fresh shirts. Regretting is a survival skill. It’s how I remind myself not to forget my phone bill a second time and wind up with $200 in late fees.
Small regrets aside – because you can always eat your packed lunch tomorrow – there are some life events big enough to warrant substantial regret. Murder comes to mind. While I haven’t killed, at the tender age of 30 my real regret list is already long. In year 2 I stole my teacher’s gel pen and denied the theft with all the rage of a falsely accused adult. Then I got caught! Wouldn’t do that again; it’s haunted me. More seriously, I can’t look back on three decades of life and say that, despite the many times I’ve behaved like a dickhead, I’d keep everything the same because “it made me the Sam I am today”. The Sam I am today once fell down the stairs exiting a plane, face-planted on the tarmac and wound up with a concussion. I regret not holding the handrail. I would not do it all again.
The real problem I have with the ‘no regrets’ narrative is that, at worst, it borders on ugly narcissism. Sure, you’re regret-free, Barry, but how many people have you pissed off along the way? In the world of social media, ‘no regrets’ is right up there with proclaiming yourself hashtag-blessed or posting “she’ll be right” under a photo of someone’s broken-down car. At first glance, not inherently offensive. On closer inspection, a little bit obnoxious. ‘No regrets’ is the kind of thing a bad boss posts on Facebook when their start-up is finally off the ground, but they’re yet to pay any of their staff. It’s the ‘not here to make friends’ of slogans, and it’s almost always got to be a lie. When it’s not a lie, and the person genuinely, truly has no regrets, it’s an all-new level of unrelatable content. I’m happy for you and everything, but keep it to yourself – the rest of us are busy stacking our regret cards with our anxious minds.
There’s nothing to be learnt from having no regrets. It’s like stamping yourself “FINISHED: could not and would not have done things better”. By the time I’m old, near death, and even crankier than I am right now, I think I’ll have many regrets – enough to justify going to the grave shrieking, “I regret so much!” No one will call me a positive person, but at least they’ll know I could have been better.
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