I can recall at pinnacle moments in my life being inundated with messages of “no regrets.”
It can come across in different forms such as “YOLO” (you only live once) or “you’re never guaranteed tomorrow!” But all of these sayings, I think meant with the best of intentions, left me with one thing: Anxiety.
It’s a lot of pressure to try and make a decision that will leave me with no regrets or make decisions that I would be happy with if this were to be the last day of my life. I can think of very few times, if even any at all, that I could confidently state I would have no regrets over decisions I had made.
This is why I read and re-read the section on regret in Brene Brown’s book “Atlas of the Heart.” She talks about how living with “no regrets” is actually living without reflection. Which, thinking about it that way, makes living with no regrets less of the courageous act we make it out to be.
Instead, she states that, “Regret is one of our most powerful emotional reminders that reflection, change and growth are necessary.” This allows the anxiety and tension in my chest to release and deep breaths to feel more feasible.
Reflection I can do. Change and growth can be uncomfortable, but I can do those, too.
I can step into a situation and confidently state that I will be able to reflect on it. Or that I at least have a solid support system and a therapist who will help me reflect on it.
Leaning into reflection reminds me of the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32). In particular, it reminds me of the youngest son. After he left home, spent all of his inheritance and was left hungry, it says in verse 17, “When he came to his senses…” I view this as the youngest son taking time to reflect, sitting in regret over choices he had made and then realizing the growth and change he needed to engage in.
As he heads back home, he plans to offer himself as a hired servant to his father, but is instead met with a grand welcome home feast and celebration. While not all of our growth and change will be met with such joyous celebration, I wonder how vastly different this story would be if the youngest son did not reflect on his actions and choices and sit in his regret.
So, instead of the mantra “no regrets,” I chose to “lean into reflection,” breathe a long exhale when anxiety about YOLOing sets in and inhale the reminder that if regret sets in then I can lean into reflection and the ensuing growth and change.