I recently reconnected with a friend from grade school. It was fun to talk about the old days and reminisce. Inevitably, we got around to exchanging facts on where we are in our lives now—marriages, children, etc. As many of you may know, my life in these areas hasn’t been what my grade school self dreamed it would be. I’ve noticed as I’ve reconnected with other friends over the past few years that this is an area where I feel particularly vulnerable. While it is not my intent, I often come across as defensive or sometimes even whiney and filled with self pity when I talk about my lack of these things that I think should be so fundamental to my life.
And, let’s be honest, there were a lot of years (a lot) where I wasn’t just coming across as defensive—I was very defensive, bitter, angry, and confused at my lack of ability to make changes in my life that would help me attain these goals.
This time, as I felt the sadness and shame about not accomplishing in this area of my life well up in me, I wanted so badly to answer in a way that was without defensiveness or self pity and loathing. I have learned a lot about myself and others through the experiences I have had. I have a great life despite my presumed lack. I wanted to be able to express this appropriately. I did better. But my response was more curt that I would have liked and did not appropriately reflect the gratitude that I have for all of the good things I do have. As I recall it was something like, “Never married. No children. Big regrets.”
My friend was kind and generous in his response (if you ever read this, thank you). I’m glad to have had the conversation because I’ve been thinking a lot the past several days about how I really feel about where I am in life, what I regret, and how I feel about the role we let regret play in our lives.
Regret has been defined as sorrow or remorse for an act, fault or disappointment, or to think of something with a sense of loss. Who doesn’t have that? Even if everything goes absolutely according to plan, there are things we don’t accomplish or can’t experience, simply because our life experience can’t allow us to have, accomplish and experience everything simultaneously.
Several years ago, I was meeting with one of my ecclesiastical leaders discussing very similar issues. I came across my journal entry from that day and was reminded of our discussion and how I left that meeting with an understanding that sometimes the things we experience in our lives that we view as negative—that we regret—are not punishments. Sometimes we are allowed to experience things in our lives because that is the only way that we can learn the things that we need to know in order to become the person that God would have us be. We can learn compassion for others with similar struggles. We can learn to rely more on the Lord and to think more about whether our life pleases Him than worldly standards we measure ourselves against. And, yes, we can use the regret we have for things we have done or not accomplished as a compelling motivator for change and growth in our lives.
As I read through that journal entry, it was reconfirmed to me that my Heavenly Father loves me and that he want for me what I want for me. But, even more, he wants for me what is best for me.
So, you may be asking yourself, “What does this have to do with Teresa’s desire to ‘Find her Inner Athlete’?” What does it have to do with her desire to eat right and exercise? Well, it has now been one year since I went to True North on a quest to improve my health. For the past few weeks, I’ve been reviewing what I did while I was undergoing that 2-week water-only fast. I’ve been thinking about how well I have (or haven’t) stuck to the way of eating that I was sure would become my new norm. I’ve been thinking about where I would be with my weight loss and my ‘inner athlete’ if I had been able to keep things going at home like I had planned. I’ve had momentary thoughts of what I could have done with the money I invested in that experience if I wasn’t going to use what I learned there. I have regrets. When I think about where my health, and most especially my weight, could be right now if I had fully embraced what I learned at True North, I feel sadness, and shame, and regret.
I also feel gratitude. I learned a lot. Even in this ensuing year of stumbling and recommitting, and stumbling again—I have learned so much! I have learned compassion—specifically compassion for myself. I have learned that I am strong and I need to give myself credit for the good things that I do. I have learned understanding. I’m learning what I really believe about what a healthy diet is. I’m figuring out how to overcome years of bad habits. I’m learning that I can’t change everything over night. I’m learning that I can change. I can do better. It’s ok not to be perfect, as long as I’m making progress.
I’m starting out a new year in a few weeks with more tools than I had a year ago. Tools that will serve me well. Tools that I wouldn’t have had without this struggle. And, I know I will succeed. I know that I have learned things through this struggle that I needed to learn in order to be who I need to be. Things that would have been difficult to learn in another circumstance.
As luck would have it, I came across this clip from Brene Brown that I found interesting and that I think mirrors my feelings about regret fairly well.
Regret is a fair but tough teacher.
I’m am a reluctant but grateful student.