It’s one of the biggest lies we tell ourselves and others, "I don't have any regrets.” How did this become a widespread belief and acceptable mantra?
I think it all started with some PR executive with clever spin-doctory advice for celebs, “If anyone asks you about that shameful episode in your past, just tell them, ‘I have no regrets because I wouldn't be where I am/who I am today.’"
This response makes sense if you are a celebrity, it’s a savvy tool used to avoid discussing uncomfortable personal matters with the world. See, if you don’t have regrets, you don’t have to talk about them. Genius. And effective.
The problem is, the proliferation of this response in the media has led people to believe that ‘having no regrets’ is a valid and ideal way to live your life rather than what it is: a useful media device to protect the privacy of celebrities. And this has spawned a whole movement with countless gurus, articles and advice to help you live life without regrets.
Here is the truth. Celebs have regrets, and so do you.
You can’t not have regrets about the past and you can’t go through life without making mistakes so you will have future regrets as well. The rationale that everything crappy or embarrassing thing we’ve done in the past is okay because here we are now, it’s all good—just doesn’t cut it. It’s not real. And it’s not okay. In fact, the inability to experience remorse is one of the main criterions for psychopathy and narcissism. Not the direction that we want to go in.
Certainly, any advice to help people make better decisions and live life to the fullest so they experience less regret is beneficial. But any promise of a regret-free life is both misleading and detrimental.
Saying we have no regrets is a lie we tell ourselves that allows us to excuse our bad behaviour, to shirk responsibility, and to try to erase past mistakes rather than reflect on them and try to do better. Sharing our mistakes and vulnerabilities increases empathy; hiding or deflecting past errors or current problems increases isolation.
It is true that we wouldn't be where we are or who we are today without all the experiences we've have had in our lives: the good, the bad and the ugly. But accepting yourself today is not mutually exclusive from experiencing regret. It is possible to both accept yourself and to strive to do better and be better.
So don’t buy into a regret-free existence. Own your mistakes, bad decisions, calamities, mishaps, misfortunes, and disasters—learn from them and let others learn from them too. You might find that with regrets, you are in a better place and you are a better you.