Today I read a post by That Precarious Gait. It was broadly about regret. Everyone has decisions that worked out well and ones that did not. I commented and decided that I waffled on enough that perhaps my comment could be tailored to become a post in its own right.
Here are my comments on the topic of Regret, tailored to stand alone than respond to the original post:
First and foremost, I think we all make key decisions in our lives that create a fork in the road. In my own case, I have dozens of decisions that changed my life and those of my future grand-children and descendants. Do I regret them? Any of them?
- I generally feel that regret is not very valuable. But…it’s not to be ignored completely. When I make a poor decision and regret it, often I use that regret to weight the contributors to future decisions differently.
- I generally feel that regret is not valuable because usually I make decisions based on the information available at the time, and based on my desires. Should I have dessert with the meal? Should I take the job in another state or country? Should I stay or should I go? Life doesn’t offer me the opportunity to test out different paths in life and so I run with what I know, sometimes choosing poorly if I allow my heart to overrule my mind or vice versa.
It doesn’t help a sensible discussion of regret that the media tends to glamorize risk-taking. For example, the person that decided to stop and play the Lottery on a whim, even though it was his/her last few bucks. Or the chance meeting and chancier follow-up that turned into a loving marriage and lots of beautiful children (that are NOT teenagers you will notice). Or the programmer that gave up a Harvard education to start a business that became a global behemoth. These kinds of things play well in books and on TV, but don’t reflect the harsher reality that almost all Lottery players lose, many marriages fail, and most small business fail. (Note that it’s a particularly American thing to celebrate the chancy successes in this way; I don’t recall this in other countries at all.)
We all yearn for success in life, love and/or business and allow ourselves to be entranced with the what-if scenarios. We sometimes wallow in the decisions that we made that didn’t pan out as well as we’d anticipated. I’ve made some big decisions over the years. Most of those decisions are irrevocable. Maybe some could still be ‘undone’ if I were minded to backtrack some part of my life. (Which is not like me at all.) But then, if we talked about going back to re-visit decisions, we’re less talking about regret than about chance and free will. I firmly believe we control our own destinies, even as we are often slaves to our desires. It is me that chooses how disciplined to be in setting someone aside that doesn’t work for me, in how often to have dessert, in deciding whether or not to play the Lottery, etc. Finally, in the corporate world, in more senior roles, decision-making includes more experience but less information. Big decisions are often made with incomplete information. Objective analysis of this for share traders suggests that chance plays a bigger part than people want to believe. Hence, none of us can pick “correctly” or “poorly” in many situations. We can simply pick a path and see where it goes, hope the journey is exciting, and the destination is somewhere that is pleasant.