Regret – it’s all relative

by Lisa Rothstein on 01/16/2012

Taking Stock Department – I recently passed a big birthday with a zero after it, which prompted me to play the “woulda coulda shoulda” game even bigger than I normally do. Like a lot of other DaVincis, I often ruminate about the roads not taken, the accomplishments that “should” have happened by now and all the time I’ve wasted.

While I am able to stick my head in the sand for long periods and pretend that time is not passing, big milestones force me to face facts. My next college reunion is coming up (again with a zero after it), and while I am childless, many of my classmates have children who are now attending or (GASP!) graduating. There was that aforementioned birthday, which I tried to ignore but which multiple bouquets of flowers (giving an unintended but decidedly funereal air to my living room), some with cheery balloons reading “Over the Hill” made impossible. And then I learned that the ad agency where I had my first job out of college was leaving its venerable old building on Madison Avenue after 85 years.

I was devastated. I loved that place, and still popped in when I was in New York to see the few remaining colleagues from the old days, or just to stand in the lobby and reminisce. Now I was getting so old that even my nostalgia trips were moving on.

That first job, as a copy trainee at Young & Rubicam, was a plum that I beat out hundreds of Ivy-League applicants to get. It was the beginning of a promising and, as it turned out, successful advertising career. But now after the passage of time, a decade abroad and other unexpected twists and turns, I am a solopreneur. I’m happy…but I often look back and wonder if what I have made of my life is worthy of my lofty career beginnings. Had I done enough? I never liked my own answers to that question.

A week or so after the news of Y&R’s impending move, a 41-year-old woman who worked there stepped into one of the elevators. The doors closed on her leg before she was fully inside. The elevator dragged her up between the car and shaft two floors as the other passengers watched in helpless horror. Her death made the front pages of all the New York papers and wrenched my heart 3000 miles away.

It could have been me. Those elevators had always been treacherous. More than once when I worked there, the doors had opened on the 8th floor, but the car was still on the 5th or 6th.

That woman went to work that day thinking that she still had 40 or maybe 50 years to accomplish her dreams. But she never got to be anything but an advertising executive. Exactly what did I have to regret or complain about?

I’m still here. And there is so much I can still do. The whining stops now.

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For more on this topic, check out Liisa Kyle’s book “GET OVER It:   Overcome Regret, Disappointment and Past Mistakes”.  Available here:


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