Wissot: Regrets? I’ve had a few
Have you ever made a regrets list for yourself? Of course, you haven’t. Who makes up a regrets list? That’s like asking people to relive their worst days and saddest moments. Nobody needs that kind of brain damage.
Your regrets are important, however, because they offer insights into what kind of person you were, are, and still could be. Think of them as life’s little mulligans. The things you did which you wish you could do over or do differently.
Before Frank Sinatra in the song he made famous tells us that he did it “My Way” he acknowledges the fact that, when it comes to regrets, “he’s had a few.”
When I look at my life I’ve had a few, too. I’m guessing some of Mr. Sinatra’s “few” had to do with Ava Gardner — those of you under 80 email me and I’ll explain who she was. I can absolutely assure you that none of mine had to do with Ms. G.
When I look at my biggest regrets, it always comes down to what I did or didn’t do for people I loved. Let me be more specific here. At the end of your life, and I’m old enough to appreciate what that means, you will not kick yourself for your career disappointments but for your relationship failures.
What you didn’t accomplish as a lawyer, doctor, accountant, teacher, electrician, plumber or carpenter will not bother you as much as what you failed to do as a husband, wife, parent, step-parent, son, daughter, friend. Unless you die at your desk, you are likely to be left with ample time to assess how well you did with the people who mattered the most. Time enough to reflect on these relationships after the memories of your retirement party and the value of your 401(k) has been forgotten.
It has famously been said that nobody on their death bed regrets that he or she didn’t “put in more time at the office.” What sticks with us forever is not what we did to advance ourselves, but what we did to enhance the lives of those closest to us. Self-advancement achieved at the expense of loved ones is a hollow form of success.
So what are my regrets? I regret earlier in my life when I became a stepdad that I didn’t appreciate how difficult a dance stepparents do when they attempt to parent somebody else’s children. It takes insight, sensitivity, strength, resilience, commitment. I took my role lightly and didn’t try hard enough to become a good stepparent. I suffer now with that knowledge. My stepchildren suffered even more.
I regret that I expressed love for intimates in my life more with words than actions.
I “hallmarked” my relationships. I’m sure the people I loved appreciated the commercially-scripted words I mailed to them. I have a sense, though, that if I had cared more for their happiness than my own, they would have felt much more loved by me.
I wish I learned how to control my temper, manage my anger, sooner rather than later. We all have said things in the heat of the moment that we regret. I was aware that my words were hurtful but still didn’t elect to stifle them. I chose impulse satisfaction over relationship protection. It was a really poor decision.
I tell you about my regrets not as an act of self-denigration. I don’t hate myself. I hate how I acted or failed to act.
What good does that do me now? Not a damn bit of good. The damage was done. It can’t be undone. I’ve offered my apologies to some of the people I let down, said my mea culpas. I’m glad I did that. I wish there hadn’t been a need for me to apologize at all.
The value to me in identifying my regrets is that it keeps me grounded. It reminds me that I am a highly flawed human being. It prevents me from taking myself too seriously; from acting self righteously; from displaying what the Greeks called “hubris” or overweening pride; from forgetting that I live in a glass house and shouldn’t throw rocks at your windows.
I certainly could have written a column about my successes in life. A column about what I have done which made me proud. But that would have bored you to death and not encouraged the examination of your own regrets.
I’m glad I wrote this column on regrets. I don’t regret that at all.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.