A good friend once said to me, “regret is a wasted emotion.”
That stuck with me for a lot of years, almost became a motto of sorts.
On closer examination, however, emotions are never wasted. They are natural and come unbidden.
Our emotions do not define us. How we react to them, what we do with them, does.
I got thinking about this when, while seeking a diversion (as if I don’t have enough as it is), I came across the Proulx Questionnaire.
But Proulx is not so much a diversion as an invitation to uncomfortable introspection.
Marcel Proulx, the French essayist and novelist, believed in answering the questions honestly an individual reveals his or her true nature.
These are not easy questions, but I got stuck on: “What is your greatest regret?”
In the immortal words of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., “regrets, I’ve had a few.”
Coming up with a greatest regret, though, is a difficult proposition.
I thought maybe it is that, although I went to school for five years to get a degree in geology, I never worked a day as a professional geologist. Did I waste my education? I don’t think so. Education is its own reward, and although it may not have gotten me into my (then) chosen field, it opened a lot of other doors for me.
Then the ‘what if…” game started.
I graduated at a very difficult time. My choices were to go back for graduate degrees or try to compete for one of the very few mining jobs available at the time. I never wanted to work in a mine, my interest had always been more academic. And I had a young family to support. I chose to pursue something else, which was lucrative, but ultimately proved unsatisfying.
What if I had persevered and found a job in geology?
I would likely not have had many of the great experiences I have had. Likely would not have lived in or travelled to the many interesting and exotic places I have. Never would have met the love of my life (or lost her, which in truth is probably my actual greatest regret). Wouldn’t know a lot of the amazing people I count among my friends.
Maybe I would have loved being a geologist. Maybe I would have had more and better experiences, lived in and travelled to more interesting and exotic places, met an even greater love and not lost her and would know other amazing friends.
Ah, but maybe I would have hated being a geologist. Like most professions, it offers some excitement, but also plenty of drudgery. Would it have been as rewarding as my current profession, which I absolutely love and am perfectly suited for.
If I had persevered and ended up hating it, would my path have taken me to journalism? Probably. I did work for my university newspaper when I was there and even did some freelancing afterward. The desire has always been there.
Or, maybe I would have found something else that I love even more and am even better suited for.
As you can see, the rabbit hole goes very deep, indeed. Questions just beget more questions, none of which are answerable.
Regret is not a wasted emotion. Dwelling on it, though, is a recipe for unhappiness and bitterness.
Nevertheless, introspection, examining our regrets, our choices, our past and our actions is an important intellectual and emotional exercise, if only to remind ourselves that all we ever have is today.
However we got to today, we are who we are.
By understanding our true nature, perhaps we make the right decisions for the future so maybe we can say when we face the final curtain, “I’ve lived a life that’s full; I travelled each and every highway; but more, much more than this; I did it my way.”