When I was young I wanted to be an actor. I dreamed of going to drama school and living a life in which I could permanently be someone else, a fact which was part of the motivation and the problem which prevented it from happening. Sometimes I have regretted the decisions I made.
Predictably others suggested I have something to “fall back on” even though all I wanted to do was be on a stage. All of the people that told me how precarious a profession it would be were, unknowingly, tapping into the part of me which was already full of self-doubt. The part, incidentally, which was both the motivation and the problem which prevented it from happening. Sometimes I have regretted listening to what other people told me.
In 1985 when I won an award for a leading role it seemed to validate my dreams, but there still wasn’t enough inertia to push me out of hesitancy and into the open, dangerous arms of life in the theatre. Sometimes I have regretted not having enough self-confidence to “feel the fear and do it anyway”.
Over the years I began to understand the role that regret played in my life, and I could see how pervasive it was in its destruction. Rather than, as some people claim, it being a way of reminding ourselves of the mistakes we must not make again it was instead forming an impression of a man I had not meant to be but had inadvertently become.
We cannot escape from regret by staring back at it whatever our misguided motivation. It is an anchor holding us steady in a place which caused discomfort the first time around and continues to do so.
Regret is easy but also an illusion.
Mostly our regret comes about because we think of the way life might have turned out if we’d made different choices. The assumption is always that these alternative lives would have been better, but what if they weren’t? What if all the regrets we have are over decisions or experiences that we needed, regardless of whether we could see that we did at the time?
Regret is only useful fleetingly.
It is said that the formula for comedy is tragedy + time. Regret works inversely. The faster you act on it the more likely you are to create something worthwhile, but allow it to fester and you’re sunk. Like a bucket set to catch a dripping tap, it gets much heavier and more difficult to move over time.
For me, the most compelling reason for letting go of such an unnecessary emotion was the gradual realisation that the time I spend regretting the life of a man who never existed is time which could be spent living the life of a man who does.