Essay on Regret: Experiencing regret, learning from it and moving on

Jasper Johns Regrets

Untitled by Jasper Johns; part of the Jasper Johns: Regrets exhibition at MoMA

Whenever I think of regret, I think of The Last Unicorn, in which the protagonist, a unicorn, is magically transformed into a human girl and learns the meaning of regret, an emotion unicorns are not familiar with. As a child, I was sad to think that not only would the unicorn now know the bitter taste of regret, she might also face rejection from her own kind because of it.

Later, as a teenager full of puffed up adolescent bravado, I liked to say that I regretted nothing. I parroted this line often, in the vein of Edith Piaf’s Je Ne Regrette Rien.  “Non rein de rein/non je ne regrette rein!”

Of course, as an adult I now know that such a thing is simply impossible. We all have regrets – regret is an integral part of human nature. I have regretted many things. I regret eating too much ice cream the night before. I regret I could not be a better friend, daughter or sibling. I regret I could not have been kinder, wiser, gentler, more gracious or patient in the past. I regret not having worked harder in the past to achieve what I want and I regret being fearful of what others think of me.

Regret forms a large part of hindsight. Who amongst us has not looked back on the past with all the worldly wisdom of hindsight and experience, and think, ‘If I had my life to start all over while knowing what I know now, I could have achieved so much more than what I have now’?

And yet. If we had to live life all over again, would we have done it? Would we be the same selves we are now, would we be changed for the better or worse because of it? Regret is part of a learning curve that allows us to step back and take stock of the situation/circumstances which triggered this emotion. It forces us to take a closer look at the causes and come away from it with some newfound wisdom, lessons learned from our mistakes that will help us grow and become a better person. Experiencing and learning from our regrets in turn helps us to become a more resilient and wiser person. It teaches us compassion, as we learn to forgive ourselves for mistakes made, and empathy, as we are now better able to understand how someone else would feel in a similar situation. It helps us to understand who we are as a person, as we seek to lead a meaningful and fulfilled life, in short, a life without regret.

Lir and Amalthea

Some of us are unfortunate enough to have one or more major regrets in life, events which stand out like sore thumbs in our psyche, situations we have regretted sorely, indeed not completely gotten over yet. I know I am one of them. But I have also come to realise that if I ever want to learn from my mistakes and if I ever had any hope of reconciling my mistakes, I needed first of all to forgive myself and to assure myself that it is all right to make mistakes as long as I can learn from it. We can often judge ourselves too harshly and in turn end up holding ourselves back from the healing/learning process, turning us into the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass as she runs on the spot and is never able to get anywhere else. But only once we can forgive ourselves, can we begin the process of learning from our mistake and attempting to set matters right, as well as to take what we’ve learned and use it to modify our future behaviour and future outlook into ensuring such a mistake never occurs again.

Some of us have made horrible mistakes that we deeply regret, mistakes that we still cringe over, our hearts still aching upon recollection. Sometimes it might be such a vast mistake that we do not think we could ever come back from it, perhaps even something where we feel our actions or inactions have cost us dearly in terms of the inherent goodness of our soul, and that nothing we can do will ever right this wrong.

However, it is also a mistake to think that. Yes, there are mistakes of great magnitude that will be very hard to forgive, sometimes it would seem quite impossible. It may feel like an everlasting regret that will stay with us. But it would also be a very grave mistake to think that there is no turning back and that we are forever what we are because of it. It is important to remember that humans are changeable in nature and we can always change. It is also important to remember that we have a choice in everything we do. We could choose to dwell on our mistakes, gradually turning our remorse into something that is also hard, bitter and resentful. Or we could choose instead to move on by spending the rest of our life working towards paying back or correcting this mistake. Even if we felt it could never be corrected, our efforts alone in trying to make right would be worth something, and if we are truly sincere in it, it would be worth very much indeed, no matter if it does not feel like it right now.


Detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch 

It’s always important to remember that while we might not be able to change the past, we can always change the future. We learn, we grow and we share. And while perhaps we can never fully change the past or never fully reclaim the innocence that was ours before mistakes were made, we can instead continue to grow and change and become something else entirely. Something that is good and beautiful and wise and all the more poignant because of our mistakes, our regrets, and most importantly of all, because of our efforts to rectify these mistakes and change our regret into something good and well-intentioned and meaningful which we can offer up to the world in place of our mistakes, of our ability to change for the better in the face of our failures. Like the last unicorn, perhaps we can no longer go back to what we once were, but we can make the best of a bad situation and appreciate instead the wisdom and understanding we have gained from it.

Week in Training (July 14th to 20th)

Swan River Wall

I used my Thursday walk to as an opportunity to practise my newfound photography skills by taking some pics by the river. It was rainy all week, but it fined up on Thursday and the light was great! I’m still pretty shy about taking photos in public (I always imagine I look like the worst kind of tourist). I need to stop worrying so much about what other people think!

I also saw these swans romancing each other on the river.

Swan Hearts READ MORE

Inspiration: Do What You Love

Do What You Love

Over the weekend, I read an article in The Australian Financial Review by Alexandra Tselios about the way we approach our work and set boundaries between work and other areas of our lives. The first few paragraphs in particular caught my eye as Tselios wrote about the inevitable ‘Happy Friday’, ‘Happy Hump Day’ and ‘Ugh, it’s Monday!’ comments we hear each week.

“I really don’t understand the disappointment felt when Sunday night comes to an end,” Tselios wrote. “Similarly, Fridays don’t really mean ‘countdown till wine-o’clock’ for me, it is simply another part of my week; and being a grown-up, I can technically have a glass of wine any time I like. Do I feel anxious about Mondays? No. Do I feel overly excited about Friday 5pm? No.”

A little further down in the article, Tselios wrote a sentence which resonated particularly deeply with me:

“It seems a shame that emotions and mood can be determined simply by what day it is, especially as each new day is inevitable and out of our control.”

I  agree wholeheartedly with her. READ MORE

The Festival of Dangerous Ideas and Plato at the Googleplex

Plato and Aristotle

I was excited to hear the Festival of Dangerous Ideas is on this year again. The name alone has an instant charm to it and a definite air of intrigue! And when I saw the lineup of events and guests at this year’s festival, I was even more excited.

Salman Rushdie, for one, will be attending and speaking about the freedom to write. Other panels and events that piqued my interest included Human Existence Doesn’t Matter (And What Is It Anyhow?), How Many Dangerous Ideas Can One Person Have?, Women are Sexual Predators, a panel on whether our advances in science and technology are threatening our existence and Bradley Garrett on embracing the idea of exploring an ‘unsafe’ city and of making our own adventures in a ‘city within a city’ that avoids today’s tendency towards cotton wool safety culture. READ MORE

Photography workshop

Photography Workshop 6

Last week, I did something I promised myself I would this year – I took a photography workshop!

I’ve had my little Sony NEX for over a year now and, to be honest, I’ve only ever used it on auto mode. The quality on auto is still amazing, but I knew if I really wanted to have professional looking, high quality photos that I could be proud to use on this blog, I was going to have to take a workshop someday. So I’ve been saving up and looking for a good course I could take. I finally found one with Venture Photography Studio. READ MORE

Week in Training (July 7th to July 13th)

Kayla Itsines Week 5 BBG Saucony Sneakers

We’ve had trouble with our Internet connection since last week which is annoying as I wasn’t able to get online to update much. Happily, everything seems to have been fixed today so I’m back on again and I have lots to share! This weekend just gone has been a jam-packed one and I feel like I’ve managed to get a lot done. It’s always a great feeling when you know you’ve been productive!

One of the upsides of not having the Internet is that I’m forced instead to concentrate fully on writing without the sneaky little breaks in between to look at blogs or download a YouTube video. Maybe I need to pull the Internet connection a lot more!

But enough chitchatting. Let’s get on with this post!  READ MORE

Inspiration: This is a New Week

This Is A New Week Motivation Inspo

Week in Training (June 30th to July 6th)

Buds of July

I love the look of these wintry buds in the picture above, creating a pattern against the cloudy sky. This is a photo I took on my Tuesday run and you can already see scarlet shoots emerging from some of the buds (though you can’t see it in this picture). Soon, the buds would flower and there will be beautiful scarlet blooms arching over the path. READ MORE

Writing Wednesday: Inspiration

The Right Words Jack Kerouac

Writers’ Daily Routines

Shakespeare In Love

One of my favourite things to do is to look at the daily routines of famous writers and I know I’m not the only one who enjoys this. Just look at the popularity of Mason Currey’s inspirational book Daily Rituals. But what I also find intriguing, perhaps even more so, are the daily routines of famous writers before they became famous. Were they holding down a day job, how did they fit writing in around their jobs, family, social commitments and all the other minutiae of life, what did they do when they got discouraged, how did they finally break through to the big time? READ MORE