As I think back on my life, it is not only the things I have done and accomplished -- the people I have loved, the trips I have taken, the books I have read--it is also all the things I have not done but should have -- the love not reciprocated, the voyage cancelled and not rescheduled, the hand not given when needed. Sometimes it was lack of courage, more often it was inattention, not realizing the need. Too often it was a matter of priorities. One only has so much time and energy, and good intentions get lost by the wayside.
I feel remorse for all the times I wish I had not done the wrong thing or said the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person. Remorse is what you wish you had not done or said. Remorse deals with what cannot be taken back.
Then there are regrets. Regret is what you wish you had done or said, but didn't. Regret is often a lost opportunity which may never return. Although, sometimes a second chance presents itself.
I am referring to the famous poem by Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken." It is the what ifs of life. One can choose the road less traveled, the one with the least predictability, the riskier one, the one that may promise new adventures and opportunities, but also unknown pitfalls.
There are popular sayings such as "live in the moment," "look to the future," and "don't dwell on the past." I do not agree. There are lessons to be learned from our past choices. To quote George Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
It is strange to think back on the moments our lives changed direction. We all have a story of when and how we met our mates, usually by circumstance that could just as easily not occurred.
I live in La Jolla today because a woman in Switzerland woke up one morning forty years ago with a sore throat. I was as a therapist, part of a psychiatric team in a Swiss child-guidance clinic. There was a speaker visiting from the United States, whose translator had a sore throat, and he asked if anyone could do a simultaneous translation of his lecture. Although I had no previous experience, I volunteered. He then asked me to join him as his translator during his lecture tour. We became friends.
He suggested I meet a consultant at a local hospital looking for a colleague -- a professor sent by Harvard to start a satellite business school in Lausanne. We met and worked together for a year. We fell in love. I followed him to the University of New Hampshire, where I became a professor of business teaching the first course on women in management in the United States. After seven years at UNH, we spent a winter in California on a sabbatical leave and never went back.
Today, after so many roads taken and/or not taken, I have no regrets. Luck -- being at the right place at the right time -- played a large part in the opportunities that opened up to me. On the other hand, I also consciously scanned for different opportunities and am always ready to jump at a possible chance for expanding my horizons.
This approach to life keeps me open -- checking what might be worthwhile, attending a lecture on an unfamiliar topic, meeting people outside my circle of friends, reading on a topic not immediately relevant to my interests, always thinking outside the box. New adventures begin outside of our comfort zones. It is the unintended, the unplanned, the unexpected that can offer a chance for new growth. I have always believed that it is better to have remorse for what you should not have done, but did, rather than regret for the things you wished you had done, but didn't.
Life can encourage or discourage us depending on the endless situations we encounter and the choices we make on a daily basis. I am happy for most of the choices I have made so far and sorry for the hurt I may have caused. Yet I remain forever curious about all the roads that still stretch in front of me, wondering which ones will beckon the loudest.