By Shubha Apte
Life is never a straight line, and it isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. It always has ups and downs. By experience, we learn to navigate all the potholes and make the journey of life victorious. During this journey, we fall at times. But we pick ourselves up and continue to move forward. Confucius has said, “that our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time, we fall.”
Looking through the rear-view mirror, we sometimes think of our choices and regret our decisions. But time does not standstill. It does not allow us to go back in time and change our decision. This is when the “what if” feeling grips us. We regret what we did, leading to a feeling of sadness.
As humans, we face millions of choices every day. Some of these choices can be good for us, but others can be damaging and significantly impact our lives.
When we make a wrong choice, we experience an overwhelming feeling of regret and know we cannot alter anything. We wish we could have done it differently. It can leave us stuck, always looking backwards and unable to move forward in our lives.
Trapped in this cycle of regret, we can become rigid, constantly blaming ourselves. But avoiding doing anything for fear of regretting it later is also not good as it tends to disengage us from relationships, opportunities and progress gets stalled. We cannot make all the correct decisions to make life perfect. A perfect life is more of an illusion. Accept that life is not perfect and start living.
“It is easy to mourn the lives we aren’t living. Easy to wish we’d developed other talents, said yes to different offers. Easy to wish we’d worked harder, loved better, handled our finances more astutely, been more popular, stayed in the band, gone to Australia, said yes to the coffee or done more bloody yoga.
“It takes no effort to miss the friends we didn’t make and the work we didn’t do, the people we didn’t do and the people we didn’t marry, and the children we didn’t have. It is not difficult to see yourself through the lens of other people and to wish you were all the different kaleidoscopic versions of you they wanted you to be. It is easy to regret, and keep regretting, ad infinitum, until our time runs out.
“But it is not lives we regret not living that are the real problem. It is the regret itself. It’s the regret that makes us shrivel and wither and feel like our own and other people’s worst enemy.
We can’t tell if any of those other versions would of been better or worse. Those lives are happening, it is true, but you are happening as well, and that is the happening we have to focus on.”
― Matt Haig, The Midnight Library
This quote about regrets made me start thinking about my own journey and the regrets holding me back. Some of the professional choices did not work out the way I had imagined. I decided to join a company based on its brand value but later realised that my personal core values conflicted with the values of the people that I was working with. When frustration set in, I decided to quit the job at the peak of my career. Looking back, I realised I had better choices and opportunities, and I had boarded the wrong bus. The disappointment I experienced from this haunted me for days. With a lot of determination, I did come out of this phase. I did not allow pain and despair to drag me into depression. It required me to look at life with a totally different lens and not allow the past to discolour my present.
I read the New York Times bestseller “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig around the same time when I was deeply entrenched in regrets, and the book resonated with me. This fictional story would resonate with anyone who has faced disappointment and regrets and wants to improve their life. The book is a gentle reminder to live life and find joy in the present moment. It is an affirmation of life’s many possibilities. We keep thinking of the days gone by and the opportunities that we may have missed, and in the process, ignoring the glories of the present.
Matt Haig is an English novelist and author. Through Nora Seed, the fictional character’s narrative, Haig encourages readers to let go of their past and make the most of their present. The central character, Nora Seed, has lost her job, her best friend, her brother and her cat, her relationships are a mess, and she decides to end her life. She ends it with an overdose of antidepressants, but she finds herself in the midnight library between life and death. Every book in the library offers her a chance to enter a life where she made a different decision and has regrets. By experiencing alternate versions of her own life, she realises there is nothing called a perfect life and prefers to live in her current state.
I loved the author’s idea of envisioning an infinite library between life and death.
The book compelled me to look at life from a totally different perspective. In life, you need to be strong from within, face the consequences of your choice and not get caught in the trap of regrets. We don’t need to understand life; we need to live it, and like Matt Haig said, “You don’t have to understand life. You just have to live.”
In the last few years, I have made many changes in my life. I have decided to use my potential to the best of my abilities and learn from my mistakes and the wrong choices that I had made and not to get caught up in regrets.
The past does not lead to happiness. The future is beyond our control, but it is the present that we are in complete control.
“It’s not the lives we regret not living that are the real problem. It is the regret itself. It’s the regret that makes us shrivel and wither and feel like our own and other people’s worst enemy”- Matt Haig.
Shubha Apte is an engineer, business leader, certified executive coach, speaker, trainer and a freelance writer based in Bangalore with focus on diversity initiatives and women leadership. Her articles have been published in online publications for LeadChangeGroup, Pratilipi, IndusWomenWriting, Unscreen.org, LinkedIn. She blogs at https://www.shubhaapte.com/
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