Have you ever felt so incredibly self-guilty that you wanted nothing more than to just curl into a ball and never brave the world again? So regretful that you wish you could go back in time and hastily scrub away what happened, permanently change the event or action or decision that led you to this precise moment?
Well, I have been there. As it turns out, I am there right now. In general, yes, depending on the relative gravity of this incident, there are most probably worse things that we can recall or imagine, and we should be grateful. I have been telling myself this. Repeatedly. And yet, as much as I try, I just can’t seem to shake the feeling that is hanging over me like a dirty, indignant cloud making me want to do something, anything, just to exfoliate and find a way to make it all magically better.
Why does this happen to us, really? Why can’t we, as the human race, reasonably and therapeutically just let all of our mistakes go, have them last as ephemerally as a puff of smoke? I see a world where everyone involved simply twirls his or her hands, yells “Alas!” like an expletive, and then accepts the new slate with a good-natured nod. Why is the weight of self-regret so heavy?
An answer? Because the world wouldn’t work any other way. The consequences of certain decisions are too substantial. Too heavy and impactful to allow decisions, actions, events, to go unpunished.
The world needs rules, cause and effect, consequences to actions. It needs structure. As much as you want something to change or be different or to just not have happened in the first place, it can’t and it isn’t and it did. “If only” is often meaningless.
And in those cases when mistakes can be remedied after the fact – what then? A core part of me sure hopes this is always the case. One of my top “talents”, as found by taking the eye-opening Gallup StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment, is “Responsibility”, where in my Gallup report, I am “impelled to deliver on all of [my] commitments. Doing so is [my] badge of honor.” Now, no one likes making mistakes , but I know that for me especially, even if there is the tiniest chance that I can make up for something, I will do it without a second thought, exhausting that option until it’s used up. Because I need to get it right.
However, if you don’t have the chance for that, if it’s just not possible… we’re back to that self-regret again. In a nice article on the Tiny Buddha website about letting go of regrets, one person’s recommendation is, “Breathe, reflect, learn from it, forgive myself, and move on.” This is easier said than done, but it’s still a start. As Arya Stark said in the great Game of Thrones TV show (based on the series by George R. R. Martin), “A bruise is a lesson… and each lesson makes us better.” Optimistic for sure, but again, often we are hard-pressed for that insight in the moment.
If we didn’t have consequences to our actions, what would we do, untempered? That’s sure an interesting thought. And yet, it is an irrelevant question, because eventually, we need to find a way to accept a mistake and move on. But how?
Well, I am going to bring my writing back to what I had penned at the time when my emotions were still fresh and crisp, when I didn’t know if the issue was going to work out. Thankfully, it did, but hindsight, as always, is 20/20.
It continues like this:
So I wish you fellow struggling people out there to know that I am with you. Struggling to get over something that went wrong. To some extent, it’s healthy, in a twisted kind of way: it makes you remember. It makes you remember what is important, what isn’t, and what you can and can’t change. It makes you feel alive, that raw emotion, that potent slash of feeling. You are one little person, in this big active world of ours, and you can only do so much. Or rather, because of that, you will do a lot. Because you can. Because you have to. Because there is no other way to dispel those what ifs, to do what you have to do to be who you are meant to be on this world. Hopefully those failed what ifs will propel you and me to our rightful places in life, even if it doesn’t feel this way at this time.
Who knows, maybe the thing that happened was something we couldn’t change in a million years, no matter what we could have done. Maybe it was something that we could have changed but for whatever reason at that point in time it didn’t happen. We didn’t think of it, we thought too much of it, we weren’t thinking, we thought we had it right. It doesn’t matter, in the end. It happened; it’s past. It is the past. Things change (read my post on Change); mistakes happen. Now the question is: when will you let it go?
I’ll let you know once that I figure that out, as I’m still working on it too. In the meantime, I will continue living, continue trying, and continue doing my best. Let’s do our best together, and maybe we can figure it out. After all, it is all we can do. And so we will.