You & Your Family

Regrets and letting go

Dec 2010    

I HAVE ALWAYS tried to live my life without regrets: to not look back on decisions made earlier. I also try to avoid the disappointment of unmet expectations by moderating them and by focussing more on meeting the needs of loved ones and others around me. In this way, I try to avoid more personal disappointments. It is a strategy of not wanting to lose by avoiding the game altogether.

Recently, I found myself confronted with an unexpected disappointment. It was connected with a decision I made more than 10 years ago when I decided to give up pursuing a doctoral degree. The decision then seemed a logical one, given that it would have to involve a further four years of research and a tidy sum of money as well. The expected returns from a doctorate were uncertain and it was not crucial to have it for the work I was doing.

Like so many turning points in life, hindsight usually renders a different perspective. Ten years on, with an increasing number of younger professionals entering my field and some with their PhD’s, I sometimes cannot help feeling a sense of envy, insecurity and yes, regret.

Some readers will no doubt have regrets of their own, from failed relationships, careers and businesses that have collapsed, to name a few. It seems that, each regret leaves behind an emotional scar. For some, it leaves them more embittered and hardened. Others experience regrets as a loss of confidence and self-esteem; and of feeling that they have let others and even themselves down.

How does one deal with regrets?
If prevention is indeed better than cure, then weighing carefully one’s decision seems a sensible measure to take to avoid making poor decisions. Such thoughtful deliberation of the pros and cons of options in any decision-making process implies that it is usually not made in haste.

Another thought that I often remind myself is that I can only be responsible for ensuring that I have used a good decision-making process. If having done so and the decision turns out to be a poor one, I cannot and should not be responsible for the outcome. This is because I do not have foreknowledge of what will happen.

Your colleagues and superiors may hold you responsible for the negative outcome but, even if you exercised thorough consideration, there is no way that you can guarantee a good outcome. So let yourself off the hook even though others may not.

If one commits oneself to a decision and things do not work out as expected, it may help to review what exactly has been lost and what unexpected gains have been reaped. For me, not having to work and conduct my research at the same time would have meant more time with the family. On hindsight, this time spent indeed was great gain. If we remain fixated at what has been lost, we cannot appreciate what life may currently present to us. It is like driving and looking only at the rear-view mirror.

Finally, what about the losses, be they real or perceived? How does one deal with them? Learning to let go will help. One way to do this is by telling God that you are now prepared to let it go. We do this when we know that we need to move on. We can tell God to help us be at peace with our need to let go of the past. In doing so, we reiterate the fact that the destiny of our lives is not entirely in our hands. It is also in God’s hands.

Benny Bong is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church, is a family and marital therapist.

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