Wednesday, June 11, 2014

I Regret Things I've Done, NOT Things I Didn't Do

People always like to say that you'll look back on your your life and regret what you didn't do more than anything that you did do. That is bullshit. I mean, I'm sure it's true for a lot of people, but it is complete bullshit to claim that this is true for everyone. I regret things I've done, I regret risks I've taken, and I regret opportunities I've seized. I regret all of these things way more than any opportunities that I've missed. I am tired of having my experiences erased when people say, "You'll regret what you've done, not what you didn't do."

The biggest things I regret in my life are "great opportunities" that I've taken. My biggest regret of all is going to Colby College. Getting out of a town like mine and going far away to a big-name prestigious college is exactly the kind of risk that people encourage you to take, the kind of opportunity that people say you'll only regret passing up. I regret Colby every day of my life. I would not have regretted staying home in my comfort zone and going to a local college. I like my comfort zone and this would have made me happy, and since my main goal in life is to feel good - NOT to grow or become a stronger person - this would have been the right choice for me.

I know I wouldn't have regretted staying home because I don't generally regret missed opportunities. That's just not something I experience very much. Before college, most of my regrets came in the form of, "I wish I hadn't spent so much time/effort on A so that I could have had time for B." Ultimately, it's A that I regret. Normally if I want to do something, I try to do it. If I was unable to do an activity, whatever prevented me from doing that activity is what I truly regret, because in the absence of that obstacle, I would have done it. For instance: I regret spending lots of time on my schoolwork and having less time for fun activities. That's my real regret here - that I spent the time on school, NOT so much that I didn't do an activity I wanted to do. Why? Because I don't like to be really busy or have a lot of things going on, so adding a new activity to my schedule without taking something else out was not an option. If any of my other choice activities were less important to me than this new one, I would have made time for the new activity. But since that wasn't the case, it goes back to school standing in my way, and that is what I truly regret. (Also note here that most of the time, B was something I was already doing and wanted to do more of.) I don't have many regrets for things that I never tried in the first place. Sometimes I've been too scared to try something, and sometimes I wish that I had tried some of those things, but these are generally minor, insignificant regrets to me. Every time that I really, truly regretted not doing something, it wasn't because I was scared to try. It was because something else was standing in my way, and I ultimately regret spending all that time on A, because if I hadn't been spending that time, then I would have done more of B by default.

About a month ago, I went to an event that ended up being boring. While a part of me wished I had stayed home and had fun by myself, I was ultimately glad that I went, because if I hadn't gone, I would have been wondering if it would have been a nice time and if I had missed out. This is an example of what I think most people are referring to when they say that you'll regret what you don't do more than what you do. I do have this experience. It just doesn't compare to things that I actually regret. Like I said above, the things I chose not to do because I was nervous or shy are NOT the things I have deep regrets about. If I had skipped this event, I would have wondered whether I should have gone, but it wouldn't have been much of a big deal to me, and that feeling would have faded fast and not been something that effected me much, in the moment or in the long-run.

The reason that I'm glad I went to this event instead of wondering whether I should have gone is simple: nothing bad happened at the event. It was boring. Boring is neutral, not bad. The only "bad" thing is the opportunity cost of what I could have been doing instead, and that's about the same weight as the feeling of "Maybe I should have gone," in the aftermath (well in this case it is, because there was a strong potential for something really good to come of this event). But if something bad had happened at the event - if people weren't nice, if I had walked away feeling really bad, then I would have regretted going. That badness would outweigh any feelings of "Maybe I should have gone" no matter how high the potential was for it being a good time.

This is what happened at Colby. Bad things happened at events. I have events that I still, to this day, 8 years later, regret attending. I left Colby feeling like a piece of my soul had been ripped out. And that is NOT about the opportunity cost of what else I could have doing with those four years. That's about what happened. That is 100 percent WHAT HAPPENED. And there is absolutely no missed-opportunity regret I have that compares to this. So please, please stop erasing my experiences with this myth about regretting what you don't do and missing the shots you don't take. There are some "shots" out there that I would give anything to have missed.

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