“I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations – one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it – you will regret both.” –Soren Kierkegaard

A friend was struggling with regret. I have strong feelings about regret, but found myself tongue-tied. I couldn’t find the words to express my distaste.

I don’t do regret.

When I was about 16, I wrote a poem:

No regrets.

Not cold, but cool.

Regrets in life make bitter fools.

Very teenage girl, but it’s knocked around in my head so long, it’s become my little credo.

I’m impatient with regret. I would rather get on with things. Take a lesson and don’t look back. Regret is dangerous, a suffocating morass that only sucks you down. It drains energy and motivation and has no cure if you let it take hold.

Regret is no good, no good at all.  But how how to wave someone back from the edge of the abyss?

Kierkegaard’s words are a good start. You’re gonna regret stuff no matter what you do. That’s a given. The road not taken and all that.

OK, fine. Regret is inevitable but we have a choice to wallow in it or not. I don’t give regret traction. It may skitter through my mind but it cannot stay, not for a minute. I just won’t let it. I hustle it out of my brain and slam the door in its face.

What pithy words sum up the necessity of rejecting regret?

I wanted a quote that really expresses regret’s poison, words to hang onto when you’re at the edge of regret. I was surprised how little the poets seem to have addressed the emotion. At least my Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and another dictionary of quotations didn’t have anything close to the mark.

The Internet was a trove of  mostly pop-culture quotes—celebrities and novelists and such.  I found lots of “you’re gonna have regrets, deal with it” quotes. Some “I’d rather regret what I did than what I didn’t do,” quotes. I like what Drew Barrymore said: “I never regret anything. Because every little detail of your life is what made you into who you are in the end.” Katherine Hepburn was tart. “The stupid things you do, you regret… if you have any sense, and if you don’t regret them, maybe you’re stupid.”

Arthur Brisbane said, “Regret for time wasted can become a power for good in the time that remains, if we will only stop the waste and the idle, useless regretting.”

“Idle, useless regretting.” Nice.

But the quote that finally hit the mark, that really described the horror and danger of regret to me, came from an actor. Another Barrymore, actually.

Sit quietly with it for a moment to feel what it says all the way to your bones. This is the corrosive power of regret.

“A man is not old until his regrets take the place of his dreams.” —John Barrymore


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