Everything seems to be going well. This is your big moment, your chance to accomplish what you have been preparing yourself to do for so long. She looks across the table, your proposal in her hands, and asks, “What are you trying to say?”
It’s a simple question, yet she is daring you to fail, expecting you to fall short of the challenge. Your hands get clammy, your heart starts racing. You stammer out a bumbling, incoherent response. But it is too late. She has already closed your file. You are being ushered out the door. For some reason it feels unfair. and all you can do is shake your head. Another opportunity missed. Another regret.
One of the most powerful feelings a person can feel is regret. Although psychology literature identifies a few types of regret, I want to focus on two. The first is a regret for committing an action that should not have been done or said, a regret over wrong choices. This can be anything from yelling at a child in a sudden burst of anger, lying to one’s spouse, or stealing from an employer. The second is a regret for lack of action; in essence, it is regret over missed opportunities. This can be anything from not giving your parents a hug, not sticking to a diet, or not telling that special person how you feel. It’s the coulda, shoulda, woulda.
The most obvious difference between these two types of regret is that the first revolves around actions that have already been committed, while the latter concerns actions that one believes he should have committed. The regret over wrong choices is more likely to directly harm another person because of certain actions or statements committed. However, it is possible to lessen the negative impact one has on the people in the world with intentional practice. The regret over wrong choices could be forgiven or even fixable, provided the action or statement is not too egregious.
The regret over missed opportunity can potentially be hurtful to people as well. But what sets it apart is that this type of regret has a self-torturous aspect. It is one thing to act and fail; at least the effort was there. It is another thing altogether to recognize an opportunity to make a difference and then balk. Often the regret over missed opportunity is an internal struggle that one has to face alone. The failure to act is often worse than acting at all.
If one were to put together a list of the few guarantees in life, “regret” would most assuredly be placed near the top. Right next to death, taxes, and a broken heart. We are faced with hundreds of choices in our life; any one of them can be a tipping point to a completely new adventure. Failing to recognize and take advantage of an opportunity is a surefire way to waste untapped potential. All people ask themselves about what could have been, and all people are left with are just questions. As Michael Jordan once rightly stated:
“You miss a 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
People might claim that there are no regrets, only experiences or lessons learned. Some people may believe that everything happens for a reason. Or that there is a certain way things are supposed to be done. And while these all can be adequate explanations for regrets over wrong choices, these ideas are futile when it comes to regrets over missed opportunities. These are chances that a person will probably never get back. All one can say in reflection are “if only” and “what if.”
What is the lesson for me? Take advantage of every opportunity. Make sure to act because the potential for something amazing is always there, especially when it comes to people and relationships. We can only control our actions in the present, and it might be all we have. Nothing in life is guaranteed, including life itself, and there is no time to not give all you have. Obviously it is much easier said than done, but it comes with practice. In the end, we are all students of life. Give a 100% and it will return the same in experience, wisdom, happiness, and love.
Mark Twain once wrote:
“Twenty years from now you will be disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Or more simply, no more regrets. No more missed opportunities. Give it all you have.