Episode 3 – Letting Go of Regret

I can’t count the number of times a client has come into my office over the past 20 years reciting missed opportunities or wrong choices they made as the reason they are unhappy or not successful today. Sometimes their stories are about a business they didn’t start, a boyfriend or girlfriend they didn’t marry, or a class their child did not take.

Similar to my clients’ stories, most of us can easily think of a decision we regret.   Our regret makes us feel sure we missed out on an amazing opportunity or experience.  Regret makes us believe we’re not living our best life.  However, we can never truly know how a decision we didn’t make would have worked out.   Maybe that decision would have led us in a direction that would not have been beneficial for reasons we won’t ever know.  All we know is that here we are in this moment with the hope and possibility that Maybe we can have the life we want from this day forward.

In this episode of my 10-minute podcast, I discuss how regret can be a terrible source of suffering and how we can start to let it go and expand what is possible. The more you do the exercise in the podcast, you will begin to find more peace and freedom to envision and pursue a new future. It’s so powerful not to be hijacked by the past and be in the moment with a clean slate.

For all we know, Maybe the best is yet to come!

Click here to listen to the podcast.

 

Will Regret Hold You Back From Your Next Opportunity?

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 A person is not old until their regrets take the place of their dreams. —Proverb

I can’t even count the number of times a client has come into my office reciting all of their missed opportunities as the reason their businesses are not larger, more profitable, or just more enjoyable. Interestingly many of these people have achieved some level of success to the outside world, but theirs minds are often filled with regret about “how much better” it could have been. Many of my clients’ stories revolve around a venture they did not partner in that is now very profitable, a product that they chose not to develop or didn’t think of, or that they should have expanded their technology or sales ability to be more competitive in the current market.

What is so interesting about their stories of regret is that they never have any setbacks or challenges. The story about their road not taken is smooth and flawless, while the story of their life in their current business is often filled with complaints and regrets. Often these clients believe that they missed one of their “big chances” in life, and it causes them a lot of suffering. I call this type of suffering being stuck in a Reverse Maybe. These clients are re-writing a story about what might have been if they had pursued another avenue in their businesses, but they really have no idea what their businesses or lives would have looked like if they had gone that direction.

Sure, they might have been successful, but maybe these other avenues would have been disappointing or stressful in other ways. They might have partnered in a venture and not got along with other investors making it very difficult. They may have expanded to another product line or technology and ran out of capital. We will never know. The twists and turns of that decision might have taken them to other, unexpected places and maybe not for the better at all. All they really know is that everything in their lives has brought them to this moment with the ability to expand and grow their businesses from this point on.

Here are some tips you can use to help resolve your regrets and be able to move forward with your business, work choices or personal life with less suffering and more joy and hope for new opportunities.

1. Identify a few experiences from the past that still make you feel regretful, unhappy or hopeless.

2. Ask yourself the following questions: “Am I absolutely certain that things would be better today if I had made a different decision during that experience?” “How do I know that it wouldn’t have caused me other problems or an outcome I do not want?”

3. Try to acknowledge that Maybe the decision you regret would not have turned out better had you taken a different course, may not have been better for reasons that you can’t even imagine today.

4. In this moment, call to mind the things about your life that you most enjoy and cherish. Have you accomplished things that you are proud of? Do you have personal and business relationships that are meaningful to you? Would they all be in your life today had you made another decision besides the one you are regretting? Maybe your accomplishments or the things you cherish most in your life are with you in the present because of the decisions that you have made.

5. Regardless how you think life would have turned out, repeat the following to yourself: “Within this moment I let go of my regret and embrace the hope that Maybe I can create the life/business I want from this day forward.”

Letting go of regret is like taking a thirty pound bag you are carrying everywhere off your shoulders. It allows you to accept where you are today with more peace and freedom and dream as big as you want for your future!

For all you know, Maybe the best is yet to come!

Do You Regret Choices That You Made In Your Life?

business movieA few years ago, my dad and I were talking and he told me how he chose to become an engineer. His father owned a steel fabrication shop and came home every night covered in black soot with cuts all over his hands. My grandmother would turn to my dad when his father got home and say, “See? He does this for you every day.” When it came time to choose an occupation, his parents made it very clear that they wanted my father to take over the family business. Out of obligation, he did so. My dad did not love engineering and being in business was very stressful and difficult for him. As we talked, he told me for the first time that what heʼd really wanted to do was to go into the entertainment business and get a job at one of the networks.

As he told the story of what his life could have been like in the entertainment industry, I realized it had no setbacks or challenges. There were no failed projects or scripts that never made it to the big screen. His story about the road not taken in the entertainment industry was smooth and flawless, while the story of his life in the steel business was full of complaints and regrets. In my heart, I felt a bit sad because my father had a dream that he did not realize. At the same time, I found myself thinking that he had a beautiful life, full of success, family and friends.

Still, my dad believed he had missed his “big chance” in life, and I could see that belief was causing him suffering. After sitting for a while with him, I said, “Dad, I think you are stuck in a Reverse Maybe.” He looked at me, puzzled, and asked, “What is a Reverse Maybe?” I explained. “You are re-writing a story about what might have been if you had pursued a career in the entertainment industry. But you have no idea what your life would have looked like if youʼd gone that direction. You might have moved to California and never met mom and I would not be here with you right now. Neither would my sister and brother. Sure, you might have been successful, but maybe the entertainment business would have been disappointing or stressful in other ways. Weʼll never know. All we know is that everything in your life has brought you to this moment. Weʼve had a lovely day together and I am so thankful for all the decisions you made so you were able to be my dad. I know my sister and brother and all of your grandchildren feel the same way.” He looked at me and smiled. “Maybe itʼs not so bad,” he said. We both laughed.

Regret is just a story we make up about how our lives could have been better if we had made another choice–but in reality, we really don’t know what the life not chosen would have looked like and we never will. The twists and turns of that life might have taken us to other, unexpected places and maybe not for the better at all.

All we can know is that everything thatʼs happened in our lives has brought us to this moment. Within this moment there is no regret. There is only the hope that Maybe we can create the lives that we want from this point forward.

A few months after our conversation, my dad, who is retired, started screening documentary films for a not-for-profit production company. Recently, he has also written a television pilot and advised a friend on re-writing a screenplay. He told me letting go of his regret made room for him to pursue his passions and interests in the present.

Who knows? Maybe this is his second career!

 

Why Regret the Road Not Taken?

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A person is not old until their regrets take the place of their dreams.

~ Proverb

Yesterday, my client Cliff told me his business is really picking up and he has some ideas for new products. We had a great discussion about his ideas and he will be pursuing a few of them in the near future.  Then the conversation took an interesting turn.  He told me that he has so much regret in his heart, it’s eating him up alive. His mother passed away over a year ago and he was struggling financially when she was alive. He regretted not having found his business success earlier so he would have had more money to take care of her and she could have shared in the joy of his success. I immediately understood and identified with the feeling of wanting to make our parents proud and see them happy.  However, there was a huge piece of the picture that all of Cliff’s regret was blocking. About ten years ago, Cliff moved back in with his mother after struggling financially for a very long time.  At that time, Cliff’s mother became ill.  Cliff took such good care of her, taking her to doctor appointments, cooking for her, managing her medicine and anything else that she needed. At one time she had pneumonia and she might not have recovered if Cliff had not been there for her.

After sitting for awhile with him, I said, “Cliff, you are stuck in a Reverse Maybe.” He looked at me puzzled and asked, “What is a Reverse Maybe?” I said, “You are re-writing a story about what might have been if you had a more successful business at that time.  But, you have no idea what your life and your mother’s life would have looked like if that had been the case. You might have been so busy with all of your work and success that you might not have had the time to take such good care of her; she might never have recovered from that bout of pneumonia so many years ago. You might have been so busy that you would have missed out on all of your time together. Yes, she might have had a few more fancy handbags but that could never have taken the place of the quality time you spent together. Maybe you were exactly where you needed to be then and you are exactly where you need to be now. So, enjoy your current success and know that your mother was blessed to have a loving, devoted son like you.”

Cliff looked at me with tears in his eyes.  He recognized in that moment that he had no idea what his life would have been if his business had become more successful years ago. But he knew that he had taken very good care of his mother. This change in thinking won’t change how he misses his mother but it will allow Cliff to move forward without looking back at what might have been.

I can’t tell you how often people come to see me with similar stories. They tell me about the missed business opportunity or the woman or man that got away, or the job they wish they had taken. Could different choices have been good and filled my clients’ lives with joy? Yes, but it is also possible that the opportunity would have brought other issues into their lives, and the woman or man that got away would have resulted in a rocky and unpleasant relationship, and the job may have ended after the first week. Remember, regret is just a story we make up about how our lives could have been better if we had made another choice –  but in reality, we really don’t know what life would have looked like and we never will. The twists and turns of life might have taken us to other unexpected places and maybe not for the better at all.

All we can know is that everything that has happened before in our lives has brought us to this moment.  Within this moment there is no regret. There is only the hope that Maybe we can create the lives that we want from this point forward.