Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda…

A recent survey examined regret and in what areas Americans regret the most. The top five regrets are:

  1. ROMANCE 18.1%
  2. FAMILY 15.9%
  3. EDUCATION 13.1%
  4. CAREER 12.2%
  5. FINANCE 9.9%

I am not surprised by the variety of regret, but I am concerned about the amount of regret people are experiencing. Many people spend time thinking about “what might have been” which pulls them out of their current experience and creates the sense of regret. Regret can be both positive and negative, however. It’s when we get stuck in the negative that people can’t move forward and can’t make changes: people are essentially stuck.

Another thing these statistics highlight are how much our life circumstances impact an individual’s emotions, and how one’s accomplishments, shortcomings, place in life, etc. can impact one’s feelings of regret. The study highlights how often people feel as though they don’t reach the goals they would like, or how they may not have been able to do the things they wanted to do in the past, either by choice or circumstance.

It’s important to stop and look at some of these regrets and think about what may create it and what you can do to change it.

Romance:
Love is a big area of regret for people, both men and women, but especially for women. If a relationship ends, women often feel wistful for it and want to try to explore it again. There are a couple of options: you can do nothing (always a choice) or you can do some exploration as to whether or not the relationship is something you can pursue again. If you choose to do nothing, your regret may last longer, as you always will ask “what if?” If you do decide to do nothing, at a certain point you have to accept your decision and move on. If you decide to act, though, be sure to weigh out all of the pros and cons of that decision. You may reach out to an old flame who isn’t interested in you and you may get your heart broken all over again. OR you may think that person has changed only to learn that he/she hasn’t. These are risks, but they may turn out to be worthwhile in the end.

Family:
Family regret can be in a couple of areas: maybe you and your partner chose to have children and then you realize that you regret this decision. You and your partner can always look into other options to be involved with children: maybe you decide to adopt. If that’s not a good option for you, get involved in different organizations that always need adult mentors, like Big Brothers/Big Sisters for example. Maybe your friends or relatives have children that you can invest time in. At the end of the day, there are lots of ways to get involved with children. It may not be the same as having your own, but it does allow you that contact and connection you may crave.
Another area of family regret could be in some of the relationships you have within your family. Maybe there was a falling out with a sibling, and you regret how you handled it. It’s never too late to extend an olive branch and try to re-connect. The other party may not be open and willing, and you will never know unless you make the effort. As difficult as it is, often times you have to put aside your pride and try to make amends (even if you don’t think it was entirely your fault). If you want to repair a relationship, take the time to make the first step.

Education and Career:
People often wish they had followed their passions or extended themselves to achieve their dreams. Rather than doing that they get caught in doing something that was “safe” or easier, as they are ready (or need to) get into the working world. There are always opportunities for learning: continuing education classes at night (some businesses will even pay for it), part time college credits, even, online learning, which allows you to pursue a variety of degrees in your time frame. Additionally, although it isn’t easy to change careers, especially if you have a family relying on you, many people have taken the risk to leave one area of work for another. Part of it is pushing past your fear and jumping into the situation. Fear is often the thing that paralyzes us and prevents us from moving out of our regretful state. If you can take a deep breath, recognize your fear, and keep moving, you might be surprised at the outcome.
The survey also found that there is a difference in regret between men and women. Women have more regret about love and family, while men have more regret in work-related areas. Generally, women value social relationships more than men do, so their regrets are going to be more significantly related to relationships. Men will have more regrets related to wanting to have chosen a different career path or not following their passion. These regret differences do speak to the typical variations we see between men and women often.
Women tend to feel more responsible for the emotional side of relationships, thus they tend to look inwardly to find reasons why the relationship ended. Women tend to blame themselves, and often ask what they could have done differently to change the situation or have had a different outcome. It would be really helpful for women to take a step outside themselves and look at all sides of the situation; examine all aspects of the situation and recognize who’s to blame for what. In a relationship, it’s often not only one person’s fault, it takes 2 to be in a relationship and 2 to be involved in a break up…if women can do a better job of recognizing that, it would help them manage their regret more effectively.

With men, more of their regret falls in the area of work and career. Many men feel as though they chose a job, not necessarily because of their passion, but because they “had” to get working, to make money, to build a life for themselves, and possibly for their families. Men often regret not getting that big deal, or not handling that client the right way. As men are not always as in touch with emotional side as women, they tend to look at things on the basis of performance, and regret when they are not succeeding as well as they would like, especially in the area of work. The best way to manage this for themselves, is to look back at the opportunity, play it back, and see how they could have handled it, or done something differently. Use it as a learning experience in how to manage a situation differently in the future. Maybe it isn’t too late to go back to that client and ask for an opportunity to pitch an idea. When it comes to changing career, do some research. Is it a feasible idea? Is is possible to do? Maybe it is…and maybe you are in a position to make some changes. Take the chance and do it. You can always go back to what you left.

It’s also interesting to think about the fact that regret is greater when no action was taken. This is true for both men and women and ties into the old adage that “it is better to have tried and failed then never to have tried at all.” People tend to reflect on missed opportunities wistfully and “wish” that they had at least tried to do it. If they tried to do something, and it didn’t turn out as hoped, at least one can say that effort was put into it. If an individual takes action, he/she can look back on it, review how he/she might do it differently or how he/she might try to fix the situation, and move forward. People may also be able to diffuse some of the responsibility, which may lessen our regret. If one never tries, he/she can only blame him or herself and wonder how things may have been differently had he/she acted.

Lastly, regret was found to be worse in situations where nothing could be done to change the situation. There may always be a level of regret when one cannot reverse the outcome. The key here is to figure out what can be learned from the situation, what valuable lesson is there, and how the same mistake can be prevented from happening again in the future. If one can do this, the insights gained may lead to closure.

Do you experience ongoing regret? How are you working to let it go?

Here’s the clip from Monday’s show:
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/03/28/earlyshow/main20047865.shtml

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