Seven Steps to Overcoming Regret?

There is nothing like the pit you feel in your stomach when you barely miss something.

There was the time when I ran from one corner of the enormous Chicago O’Hare airport to the other. My heavy carry-on bag bruised my side, as it bounced repeatedly against my ribs for my nearly mile-long jaunt to catch my next plane. As I ran, I pulled off my coat and striped scarf that were collecting a pool of sweat- not the companion I wanted for my upcoming transatlantic flight. At least I hoped my heavy breathing and disheveled hair would gain me some sort of sympathy from the airline’s gate agent.

“Sorry. The aircraft door was just closed.”  The agent spoke matter-of-factly; all of her sympathy had disappeared years ago. She did not even attempt to be kind.

“But…but I can see the plane sitting right there. My other flight arrived late. Is there any way I can still get on?” I soon learned that once an aircraft’s door is closed, it is bound by an oath to remain shut until it reaches its next destination. And I was left- alone, sweaty and completely disappointed.

I just felt that same disappointment a few days ago. Nick and I were invited to a weekend get-away for Estonian pastors on the island of Saaremaa. We had looked at the ferry timetable, and thought we were arriving 20 minutes early. Our hearts sank when we approached the terminal to see the ferry just pull away from the dock. So, I sat in our car and waited for an hour with the icy sea and island firmly in view. And, with nothing left to once again fill the pit in my stomach, I decided to take my computer out, sit in my heated seat, and write a blog about something we all experience.



Regret.

There are the small regrets. For instance, I regret that I never took dance lessons when I was young. And since I love dancing so much, I regret that we did not have a nice meal and dance at our wedding. I would have loved a final tear-filled dance with my dad, dressed in his tuxedo. I could have treasured the memory of leaning my forehead against Nick’s, as we swayed amidst the onlookers, and started our new life together.   

The small regrets are disappointing yet easy to let go - like the missing of a ferry, plane, or a dance in white.  But the looming large regrets truly haunt you. These are the regrets that you never imagined possible as you embarked on your adult life as a hopeful, energetic  teenager.

The last week has not been my best. Despite my greatest attempts (and all my usual remedies), I’ve been pretty low as I’ve been letting regret and hopelessness fill my thoughts. There is nothing more lonely or miserable than recognizing your problem and, at the same instant, realizing you truly have no understanding on how to overcome it. So, I thought and remained silent. My sleep has been broken. I’ve prayed for God to somehow take all the regret away. I’ve pleaded for a change of heart – that I can be grateful heart for everything I have. But, with each passing day, the regret deepened.

I was 17 years old when I finished high school, and my parents held a party on my graduation day. I remember sitting on the porch of their Victorian home as I said goodbye to those who had loved me all my life. Tonight I was reminded of that day and my teenage, starry-eyed self. As a part of our nightly routine, I grabbed a book off the bookshelf to read to Ava and found a forgotten one that I had not read in years. It was a gift I received on that graduation day- May 26, 1996. I opened the cover to find my dad’s secretary’s writing as she reminded me of the great future I had ahead of me.



Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go – a book vibrant in color and rhyme.

The book begins: 

“Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
Any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And You are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
You’ll look up and down streets,
Look ‘em over with care.
About some you will say, ‘I don’t choose to go there.’
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
You’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.”

But what happens when we realize we were too scared to travel the road that was meant for us? 

How do we reconcile the fact that we were too young to truly know ourselves and we chose the road we “should” have gone down instead of the road we “dreamed” of walking?

I am well acquainted with depression. I’ve seen it in my family and I’ve seen it in myself. It is an uninvited companion that likes to stay around. It changes every aspect of your life. You wake up with the wish you could disappear rather than roll out of your warm bed and into a dreaded day. Every color suddenly takes on a pale hue. You dream of doing the unimaginable – just leaving it all.

A wise counselor once told me that many people fall into depression when they never allow themselves to truly mourn the loss of a dream. The regret festers inside until it spills out in despondent sadness.

I have done that. I have allowed that. I am tired of having someone comment every single year about a sadness in my eyes.

I wish I could get up on my blogosphere pedestal and give you seven succinct steps on how to let go of those deep-seeded regrets.

I just can’t. I don’t have the answers, but I know that I am determined to try:

  •     To be thankful for everything I have. There is character, beauty and strength to be found in the wrong turns of life. I will spend a few moments, laying in bed each night, recounting all the good (and I have a lot to be thankful for).
  •     To let myself mourn the opportunities lost. I can spend a few nights listening to a dramatic song, praying and soaking my pillow case with a few tears. There is something truly sad about unmet dreams. There is a loss – time and opportunities we cannot get back. But then…
  •     I focus on the dreams and the opportunities of the future. No matter how bleak and few our options may be, there is always a way to pursue a vision of who we are meant to be.
  •     I will allow no room for excuses. There is only room for hope, discipline, hard work, and the joy of seeing a dream materialize ever so slowly; brick by brick.
  •     And when I undoubtedly have a low day in the midst of the process, I will return to my God who says:
I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed. God’s Decree. I’ll turn things around for you.” Jeremiah 29 – The Bible


Different, new, slightly altered (and possibly slightly better) dreams lie ahead of us after we emerge from the valley of regret. And there is no better way to summarize the journey than to finish with the words of the brilliant Dr. Seuss:

“Oh the places you’ll go!  There is fun to be done!
There are points to be scored. There are games to be won.
And the magical things you can do with that ball
Will make you the winning-est winner of all.
Fame! You’ll be famous as famous can be,
With the whole wide world watching you win on TV.
Except when they don’t.
Because, sometimes, they won’t.
I’m afraid that some times
You’ll play lonely games too.
Games you can’t win
‘cause you’ll play against you. […]

But on you will go
Though the weather be foul.
On you will go
Though your enemies prowl.
On you will go
Though the Hakken Kraks howl.



Onward up many
A frightening creek,
Though your arms may get sore
And your sneakers may leak.
On and on you will hike.
And I know you’ll hike far
And face up to your problems
Whatever they are. […]

And will you succeed?
Yes!  You will, indeed!
(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)

So…
Be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
Or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
You’re off to great places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!”

            ****

I would love to hear your stories and tips of how you overcome regret!  Comment or e-mail me at nopuccini2(at)gmail.com.