Friday, May 5, 2023

Insight: Regrets which make us stronger

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

I recently listened to an interesting podcast on NPR’s Life Kit about personal regrets and the notion that instead of dwelling on mistakes we’ve made, we should embrace our regrets and use them as a guidepost for the future.

In this podcast, the Life Kit hosts interviewed author Daniel H. Pink about his book “The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward” and a discussion ensued focused on regrets that people expressed to the author of inaction and how they outnumbered those of action regrets by a wide margin and inaction regrets rise over time as we age. Pink classifies action regrets as deeds that can be undone, such as choosing the wrong career or purchasing a timeshare on an impulse. Inaction regrets fall into the impossible to resolve “if only” category, such as “what if I were thinner” or “if only I had invested in computer technology when I had the chance to years ago, I’d be wealthy now.”

Pinks says his data shows human regret most often falls into four distinct types including foundational regret (not saving enough for retirement), moral regret (infidelity, bullying), connection regret (I should have married her), and boldness regret (I shouldn’t have quit that job). He associates basic human characteristics with each type of regret, linking a need for personal growth with boldness regrets; a need for goodness with moral regrets; a need for stability with foundational regrets; and a need for love with connection regrets.

According to Pink, if we all take the time and examine our own regrets, it can be a significant tool to help us achieve genuine happiness and empower our lives going forward. He suggests that our goal should not be to minimize our regrets, rather, we should optimize them for our personal benefit.

All of this prompted me to think about regrets of my own and to identify them to better understand what makes me who I am and to stop dwelling on things I really have had no control over in my life.

There are some things about me I simply cannot change. With my paternal grandparents standing just 4-foot-10 and 5-foot-1, it was in my genes that I was never going to reach 6-foot in height or to become a center on a professional basketball team. But despite only reaching a height of 5-foot-7 ½ myself, I do get complimented a great deal about how thick my hair is, even at my advanced age.

Rapidly approaching the 48-year mark for my career in a few weeks, I’ve never regretted my career choice of journalism, yet I do regret my father not living long enough to see me be promoted to the editor position for seven different daily and weekly newspapers over the years since his death.

Under the heading of foundational regret, I probably should have started collecting old baseball cards sooner. Many of the cards I had as a child are now worth considerable amounts and some 1950s, 1960s and 1970s cards that I could have purchased back in the early 1980s for under $1 are now selling for $30 each and up. I also have come to regret not treating some cards with proper respect back in the day. The Topps 1965 Mickey Mantle card that I affixed to the spokes of my bike with a clothes pin because I liked the sound it made is now worth $800 or more in excellent condition.

For moral regret, I am still troubled about making fun of my high school biology teacher with my friends behind his back. He was merely trying to teach us and making fun of his looks is something that I wish I hadn’t done more than 55 years ago.

I do have a few regrets under the boldness category. I still miss my Minolta 35mm camera to this very day and am sorry I gave it to a thrift shop when I started using my new Nikon digital camera. Nothing against digital photography, but the quality of 35mm photos using that camera was outstanding. I have never regretted giving up playing the clarinet while in middle school, but I certainly wish I had kept my turntable to play vinyl records. I abandoned my vinyl records in the early 1990s in favor of CD technology and despite all odds, vinyl records are suddenly back in fashion. I had hundreds of albums from the 1970s and 1980s in my collection and now regret giving them all away.

As far as a connection regret goes, I do wish I would have met my wife Nancy sooner. We have a great life together and are happy to have found each other, but life is short and at our age, more days are behind us than lie ahead.

If examining our regret is helpful and transformative, I certainly have plenty of regrets to put under the microscope regarding my life to this point. Some of my regrets seem rather silly to me now and others I have pinpointed remain things I cannot change or redo. But exploring them does give me a better perspective about who I am.

What are some of your biggest regrets?

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