I’ve become hooked on a new TV show called “Being Erica”. The premise is simple, but brilliant: a woman who feels like a failure and who has many past regrets decides to seek help from a therapist. His brand of therapy is unique–he sends Erica back in time to relive and “fix” those moments she regrets: the time she lost her virginity, getting drunk at the Fall Dance and embarrassing herself, letting a professor totally humiliate her in her Creative Writing class, etc. By going back in time, she is able to avoid those things that cause her regret in her life now.
I would love to go back in time and have the opportunity to relive and “un-do” my regrets. Some are a moment in time, some are regrets that span years. As part of the short list, I would spend more time on my social life and less time on studying when I was in college. I would take back a very hurtful thing that I said to my mom when I was 14. I would never drink too much vodka one night in 2004.
Since the TV show is fiction (we are talking about time travel), doing the opposite of what she once did is usually not the solution. For example, even though Erica goes back in time and doesn’t drink any at the Fall Dance, she still finds herself the unwanted center of attention. The real solution is learning that she cares more about what she thinks about herself than what others think about her.
My guess is that it would be the same for me. I would go back and hold my tongue when I was 14, but unless I comprehend the lesson, I could still have said something equally as nasty when I was 16. The point is really not about erasing our bad decisions but learning from the consequences. I’m probably a better person now because I said something mean, understand how hurtful it was, and consciously avoid repeating my mistake.
When I interview candidates for a job openings, I always ask one question: “Tell me about a decision that you made that didn’t turn out the way that you wanted or anticipated and how you handled the results.” I call it my trick question–I’m really not interested in what the mistake was, how big or small it was, or how responsible the person was for the mistake–I’m always listening for the candidate to end their response by saying something like “But what I learned from that was….” or “Since then, I always make sure that….” Any kind of statement that shows me that when they misstep, they learn from it, try to avoid repeating it, or picked themselves up and went on.
Regrets are not horrible things to have, as long as they don’t rule your life. While I would rather have learned my lessons without hurting others or myself, I don’t think that life works that way, so all those regretful moments got me to this place. They shaped and honed me, refined me like silver, as it says in the Bible. And one regret that I don’t have is regret with the person that I am trying to be now. OK, so the fictional ability of “un-doing” our regrets sounds attractive, but in the end, I’ll keep mine and be thankful that I don’t have any more than I do.