If Only…

by Liisa Kyle, Ph.D. on 04/11/2012

Regrets.  You’ve probably had a few.  Do you dwell on them?  Do you avoid thinking about them?  Try this instead:  try translating your past regrets into something positive in the present.

Consider the essay entitled ‘Fall In Love With Life’ penned by Betty Smith (author of the classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn).  Smith notes that “As a listening child, [she] often heard older people say [things like] “If only I had my life to live over…”  She vowed to not fall prey to the same fate.  Later in life, however, when she found herself “middle-aged and alone….[She], too, began to think: “If only I had my life to live over again.”

It’s natural — and a little scary — to contemplate ‘if only’.  To muse alternative fates, as if we had any choice in the matter.  For as much as I believe we do the best we can at any point in life, it is tempting to wonder (if not fantasize) about alternative scenarios.  And it’s helpful to translate any past regrets into something positive — some action you can take or something you can appreciate about yourself in the present.

For example:

 If only…I would have embraced my creative pursuits earlier. I was trained to work HARD — to toil and struggle and earn success.  To pooh-pooh things that came easily.  I loved writing as a kid but it was fun and easy and it never occurred to me to write professionally until much later in life.

Then again, had I started writing professionally when I was in my twenties, I would have withered in the face of editors’ rejections.  As it happens, because I was a late bloomer in terms of having a byline, I had a much more secure and realistic perspective.  I understood that an editor’s ‘no’ was not a personal affront but rather a reflection of available column space for that issue.  If I’m honest with myself, my writing career would not have been feasible even one month before I actually started.  And when I started, things clicked.  Having decided to take the plunge, my submissions were snapped up by major newspapers almost as fast as I pitched them.

If only…I would have identified and dealt with my perfectionism earlier in life.  I regret having caused myself and the people around me unnecessary stress and strain.

This one’s tougher.  At this juncture, I see little benefit for the extra decades of angst. The only saving grace is that at least, eventually, I did learn the impact that perfectionism was having on me.  Some people never do. And I know I’ve helped others avoid or abate the pain the perfectionism, for example in my Acceptance workbook.  It’s gratifying to know that I’ve spared others some of what I (and the people around me) suffered.

 If only…I would have traveled more during the past decade.  I adore travel.  I visited fifty countries early in life and then, about ten years ago, I stopped.  Practicalities intervened and now, poof, it’s years later and I realize that I’ve been depriving myself of something important.  Worse, I recognize that it’ll be more challenging for me to hoist my older carcass up the steps of Machu Picchu and otherwise around the globe than it would have been in my fitter days.

The point of this ‘if only’ is that I can do something about it…I need only make a point to travel more this year and in the years to come.  (If not now, then when?)

So there’s something to be said for reflecting on your past regrets and mining them for gems.  Here’s how:

* Clear some uninterrupted time.  List your major regrets.  Contemplate your ‘if only’s’.

* For each, ask yourself the following:

– What did I learn?

– What good came out of this?

– What positive action can I take now?

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For more, check out my book Get Over It:  Overcome Regret, Disappointment and Past Mistakes Available here for only $2.99:   http://bit.ly/getoveritbook

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What are your ‘if only’s’ — and what do they mean to you? We’d love to hear from you in the comment box below.

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