I don't have very many regrets - and this is not because I haven't made many mistakes. I've made plenty, far more than I can (or care to) count. And I can't say that some weren't initially followed by pangs of regret. But on most occasions, I've extracted something valuable from these blunders - les-sons that outweigh and outlast the impact of the original feelings of failure or embarrassment or disappointment. Most of my mistakes have helped shape me and teach me, and with that realization any desire to undo them dissipates.
That being said, I can't say I fully buy into the mantra of a "no regrets" lifestyle - I think there is some value in regret. If I regret something then maybe that is the catalyst I need to search for the lesson, or maybe it's the means by which that mistake has to become meaningful to me. Maybe it keeps me grounded in some sense of accountability, and forces me to take responsibility for my own growth. If I become too cavalier about never having regrets, then I may become so good at it, I bypass the crucial conversion phase, wherein regrets are mixed with reflection, introspection, and commitment to improvement, and therefore, transform into something else entirely.
I have a few experiences that yielded a stubborn regret, even though I learned from them. One moment comes to mind; it's simple, but it has stuck with me.
I had a good friend who lived in New York. He, my roommate, and I hung out on many occasions and all became close.
At a certain point, a larger expanse of time passed between our get-togethers, but we remained in touch with him and all cared a lot about each other. Eventually, he contacted us to let us know that he would be moving to the West Coast and was having a going away party that Sunday evening. It had been a while since we'd all hung out, but nonetheless we met this news with the usual blend of emotion one feels when a friend moves on for new opportunities: that bittersweet blend of excitement and sadness.
But when the day arrived I was tired, and didn't feel like a schlep, and had work the next morning, and a whole host of other excuses that ultimately resulted in my not attending the going away event. When it comes down to it, it was a decision borne of pure laziness. Sure I was tired, but after entering the real world we are all always tired for the remainder of life. If I let tiredness become a regular excuse to miss out on things, then I would never do anything.
At any rate, that occasion is one that I reflect on frequently and it's one of those rare instances that I still have the desire to be able to go back and do it over - and do it right. I didn't show up for a friend on an important occasion, and I will likely never get that particular opportunity again. I know that he was disappointed, and maybe somewhat hurt, as I know I would have been in that situation. My actions conveyed the message that our friendship wasn't priority enough to overcome the barriers of sleepiness and inconvenience. That was far from how I felt toward him, but regardless that's the message that was sent.
I'm someone who values my relationships tremendously, and who is, as a general rule, not only willing but inclined to go out of my way for people that matter. In many ways, I've had to reel that in because I spent a lot of my youth bending over backwards for people who would barely even budge in return. Reciprocity matters in relationships, and sometimes that doesn't mean someone else doing more, but rather you doing less, if only because there is a finite amount of time and energy we are able to give, so it should be given with thought, and to those who will nurture it and help it expand, instead of consuming it relentlessly.
This occasion, however, made me realize that maybe I had inadvertently become careless in reeling in that effort, because I had made a call to not show up for someone in a circumstance that deserved my effort.
That moment is a regret - not an awful one, not one that defines me, but a regret nonetheless, and I think it will always remain one, but I'm grateful for that. It highlights for me the value in making an effort and being present for people you care about. The tiredness, the inconvenience, the rationalizing - they will cease to matter. I don't advocate for stretching yourself thin running in every direction for everyone, but on more occasions than not, we know when our presence matters to those who matter to us, and when those moments arise, people remember when you show up for them. Both presence and a lack thereof can speak loudly, and sometimes you have to go the extra step to ensure your actions echo your feelings.
I know I remember when people show up for me - it means so much and is a small effort in the scheme of things. Being there when it matters is perhaps one of the most significant qualities I attribute to substantial, enduring relationships - and it is a quality that demands reciprocity, and effort - but it is effort well worth it.
In the end, I cannot go back in time and be there for my friend's going away event. But I can go forward with the confident (and comforting) knowledge, that I won't make that mistake again.