Conversations, Entry #1: Has Regret Helped You Grow as a Writer?

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From now on, I’ll share comments posted by you, dear readers, that have inspired me, in a rubric I’ve generically named “Conversations.” I highly value your insights, and occasionally I’m sure there will be a few that are too valuable to be left buried and forgotten in the comments section, seen by my eyes alone.

It’s not the first time I’ve done this, as you may recall from this post and this little survey. But I hadn’t thought of dedicating an entire category to reader responses.

Until now.

I envision this to be a weekly post. There may be irregularities, however, should I fail to sufficiently engage my readers. 🙂

For our debut, I present you this inspiring comment I received from Melissa Janda, in response to my post, “Have You Been Using ‘Epiphany’ Wrong?

I asked Melissa what she thought of regrets, which Katherine Mansfield describes in her journal:

Regret is an appalling waste of energy; you can’t build on it; it’s only good for wallowing in.

Melissa was kind enough to share her inner journey towards the discovery of what she was meant to do: writing.

I don’t necessarily think regret is a bad thing and I find it a little irritating when someone says, “I have no regrets.” Really? Have you lived such a guarded life that you’ve risked nothing and cared for no one? Have you once ventured outside your door?

Sure, regret is a deep desire to change events in the past, mistakes that you’ve made, and it’s pointless to dwell on them since the outcome can’t be changed but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. If you don’t have regrets then how will you ever grow as a person?

I have regrets, lots of them, things I wish I didn’t say or do but I try to look at them constructively and determine what I should learn from the experience. Even though each mistake was painful at the time, looking back on them, I realize I have gained something from every wrong turn I have taken in my life.

Once I discovered I wanted to be a writer, I thought about this question a great deal. Why hadn’t I chosen English as my major? I had a high school English teacher praise my writing. I placed out of a few English courses in college (although I don’t think that’s uncommon). A college professor asked to share a piece of my writing with future classes.

I reluctantly agreed because I didn’t think it was very good and still don’t.

I bought a book on how to write a novel shortly after I graduated college but never read it until a couple of years ago. I took countless personality tests (I’m an INFP, but sometimes the results showed INFJ1) and “writer” was always listed as a career I should pursue. There were so many signs pointing me in the direction of writing, why did it take me so damn long to figure it out?

I ignored those signs because I doubted my abilities. Doubt: she is a bitch and will try to beat me down on a regular basis but now I have the strength to punch back. I think of the person I was then and I don’t think I had the confidence to persevere in this line of work.

The twenty years I spent in the corporate world, climbing that ladder, dealing with office politics, managing people and the demands of my position changed me tremendously. I grew in confidence and developed a pretty thick skin.

When the thought of writing a story popped in my head (as it had countless times over the years), and Doubt started in with “Me? Write a story? Don’t be silly,” this time I was prepared and responded with, “Why the hell not?”

After writing that first story I had my epiphany. The use of the word seems appropriate here since it practically took a miracle for me to see it. I was meant to be a writer.

I apologize for the long post, Daniel, but as usual, you’ve got me expressing deep thoughts 🙂

Be sure to check, among others, her heartwarming tribute to her husband on Father’s Day.

How about you? Is regret something that holds you back, or helps you grow?


1 For an excellent comparison of INFP vs. INFJ, please visit Psyphics, INFJ vs INFP.
Top image by Kira Westland. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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26 thoughts on “Conversations, Entry #1: Has Regret Helped You Grow as a Writer?

  1. I lifted an eyebrow at Melissa’s comment that it irritated her when people say they have no regrets because I’ve always been one who said that, but meaning what Melissa describes in the rest of her comment.

    I’ve taken risks and failed. I’ve made decisions which seemed best according to the data available at the time, even if they turned out foolish in hindsight. I’ve made decisions which I knew was dumb even as I made them, but I made them anyway. I regretted them, but I’ve moved on. I’ve learned from them and used them to grow. I don’t regret those choices any more because I realise I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for even the bad choices. It’s in that light that I say I have no regrets.

    In the end, the only regrets I do have is where those choices hurt others who didn’t deserve it. That feeling of regret I will probably carry with me for ever, which is a good thing because it helps lessen the chance that I will harm another in the same way.

    A closing thought: In Afrikaans the words “what if” translate as “wat as”. “As”, the word for “if”, is also the word for “ash”. We have a saying: “As is verbrande hout.” In English: “Ash is burnt wood.” Regrets are like ashes – the remnants of something that once was. Just like you cannot build a house from ashes, you cannot build your life if you cling to things you regret. Rather learn your lesson and move on.

    • Thank you for such a thoughtful response. Whenever strong regrets start to grow within me, I always try to remind myself exactly what you’ve said, that “I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for even the bad choices.”

      I’ve hurt others, too, in some cases by making really dumb choices. But I also realize that it was all part of a maturity process. There are a lot of what-ifs, but they’re all silly. If I had majored in English, yes, I would’ve been better equipped with knowledge and tools to write better. But I probably wouldn’t have written this blog; I probably wouldn’t have met my wife; my son probably wouldn’t have been born, while it’s my wife and son who motivate me most.

      It usually doesn’t take me long to arrive at the realizations above, although I must say that my regrets pop up every now and then; there seems to be no way to eradicate them completely, and put an end to the suffering, stress, and sadness they bring (the Buddhist concept dukkha). So I guess I just have to accept that they’re part of my life and indeed, move on. Maybe when my meditation has finally advanced enough, I will no longer be bothered by them.

      On an unrelated note, soms vraag ik me af of je me verstaat als ik in het Nederlands schrijf—well, technically I speak Flemish, which is probably more akin to Dutch than Afrikaans. The words “what if” translate as “wat als” and we say the exact same words: “As is verbrande hout!” 😉

      • Ek kan Nederlands verstaan, ja, though it often takes me a while to figure it out – the vocabulary differs especially with some nouns and verbs. But then that’s what Google Translate’s for isn’t it? 😉 Actually spoken Flemish is much easier to understand for me than Dutch – the sounds are more similar to Afrikaans than is the case with Dutch.

        I usually avoid religion online for fear of giving offence, but as you shared I’d like to respond in kind: I think what helps me get over my regrets is the Christian teaching of forgiveness. Especially where I have regrets over hurting others, it is not always possible to go back and ask their forgiveness, or it is, but they won’t give it. It’s in these cases that Jesus says we should hand our burdens over to him and he will carry them on our behalf. I know this will make no sense to a non-believer and might even be considered delusional or a cop-out, but for me it does make a difference, knowing someone infinitely better than me is taking care of things in a way I cannot.

        Of course the temptation is always there to take back that burden and allowing the regrets to weigh me down once again. Like you, I still have much growing to do.

      • I watched an interview of Charlize Theron on Belgian TV, where the reporter asked the questions in Flemish. It was cool to watch. 🙂

        About religion, I know how you feel. It saddens me sometimes that some people just don’t keep an open mind to other people’s beliefs. It’s not a phenomenon exclusive to one sect or one religion, every religion has adherents like that. I know atheists who ridicule everything that has to do with faith, I know Buddhists who are arrogant and think other religions are stupid, etc. etc. Don’t get me started on conversion.

        That’s why I posted this video. But it doesn’t seem to be a topic that interests my readers much.

        Anyway, the point is, most of the time, religion isn’t the problem, but people themselves. There would be no violence, terrorism, or human rights violations if people would just accept each other’s differences and work together towards collective happiness.

        Thanks a lot for sharing!

  2. Reblogged this on Melissa Janda – the Buzz on Writing and commented:
    I wanted to say thank you to Daniel for believing that my comment held enough merit to be highlighted in a post. I find his blog incredibly inspiring. It often stirs up deep thoughts. If you aren’t already following him, head over to his blog and you will see what I mean. Thanks again Daniel. We’ve traveled similar paths. It’s good to have someone who has been down that road and is now traveling the new one with me. 🙂

    • I can’t seem to thank you enough today. Thanks for the reblog. I can totally relate to your story, because I find myself on a similar path at the moment. I haven’t seen the end of the road yet, but let’s just say that it’s both exciting and terrifying at the same time, because I could end up anywhere.

      It’s easy to get discouraged trying to pursue what you know to be your true calling, while doing something else entirely to survive—not to mention to fulfill your responsibilities to your family.

      I’m glad that no matter what happens, I will still have the wonderful, supportive people on the blogosphere. 🙂

      • I know all too well the path you are on. When you’re doing something that you have no passion for it’s like you can literally feel yourself dying. At least that’s how it felt for me. But you’ve discovered the path you want to take long before I did. I mentioned in one of my posts that God speaks to me in bumper stickers (that’s usually the only way he can get my attention). One day while driving home from work I was contemplating all this and asking God to show me a sign, what should I do? Then I noticed the bumper sticker in front of me and it said, “Patience.” Not exactly what I wanted to hear and who knows if it was really meant for me but I started to prepare for a change. I just didn’t know what it was at the time or if I’d ever have the courage to go through with it. I was the breadwinner in my family up until the day I retired (I don’t like to say quit) but I took steps so that it wouldn’t be so hard on us financially. We downsized our home and our spending habits (those things weren’t fulfilling, anyway) and I saved wherever I could.

        There is no question you have the talent to be a writer so don’t get discouraged. Don’t stop writing, Daniel. Let me guess. You feel unburdened, uplifted, and free, when you’re writing, right? If the answer is yes, then this is what you were meant to do and you’ll need it to get you through the tough times in your day job. It will be your refuge. Get lost in it as much as you can. Consider this time a period of preparation for something better. Have patience. Your time will come.

      • Melissa, I honestly got goosebumps reading this. There’s so much experience and wisdom in your words, and you’ve given me the courage to keep on trying. You’re absolutely right; ‘dying inside’ is definitely not an exaggeration. I do feel free and simply, incredibly happy when I’m writing. The feeling of being in focus, lost in imaginations, and digging deep into the mind— there’s nothing like it, except meditation.

        It’s very true what you said about refuge, too. Ah, I think I wouldn’t be able to give up writing even if I wanted to, anyway, so I think feelings of discouragement are more of a setback, delays I have to get over, because otherwise it would take me too much time to be where I want to be with my writing.

        There’s no other way but to keep on moving forward.

        I don’t know what it is about today; first The Parasite Guy gave me a blog shout-out, then Kira welcomed me to her Squirrelies club, Funny Philosopher nominated me for a Shine On award, and— well, you know what you’ve done for me today. So, thank you again. 🙂

      • I think this comment of Melissa should be Conversations #2. Even though you intended it for Daniel it has encouraged me as well. Thank you.

  3. Daniel, I have found that the quicker we get over regretting a mistake or action the better. The only sure way to do this is to resolve to try and not repeat what ever caused the regret in the first place. The other thing I find useful is to go through a dialog train that starts with “As a result of my action who was harmed?” Usually the answer is we have only hurt ourselves and if so, we should be able to live with that. Great post.

  4. I have actually a motto about this subject: ‘Je kan beter spijt hebben van dingen die je hebt gedaan, dan van de dingen die je niet hebt gedaan.’ (you can better feel regret because of the things you did, than regret the things you didn’t do)
    I am very impulsive and of course I will do things I regret later. But I still think that’s better than letting a opportunity go by because you are afraid you may regret it.
    You can learn from your experiences and actions, you can’t learn anything by doing nothing.
    Liefs,
    Patty

    • Thanks, Patty. I agree, life is about taking risks, as Melissa pointed out. Without following our instincts and impulses we may miss out on opportunities that could otherwise take us closer to fulfilling our dreams!

  5. There are so many things that I regret doing and not doing, and as I get older more so than ever before. I look at the things that I didn’t do as paths untravelled. Because I didn’t take that particular road, my life lead me on a different route. The destination is always the same though; self-realisation. Some wrong turns along the way but learning and growing never stops.

    • So true, I’m also for lifelong learning. There’s simply too much knowledge to gain, that we can’t afford to sit around and do nothing. Wrong turns are good if we can learn from them. Some people might comfort themselves by thinking, there might exist a parallel universe in which our alternate self travelled down different path. Or you could also say ‘all roads lead to Rome,’ even though some may be more rough than others. 🙂

      Thanks for reading.

  6. What a great post and comments. My regrets center around allow fear and doubt to deter me. I missed many opportunities. Like the guy I liked all year senior year who came up to me on the last day of school and asked me out. Or jobs I didn’t go for. I also took a look at my pile of rejections from queries I sent. Some of them weren’t that bad. They were actually requests for a resubmission that I never followed up on!!! Too busy being hurt or fearful!

    • Thank you for sharing. Like you, I’ve also regretted some of my relationship decisions, but these are the easiest ones to get over because if I had made a different decision my son probably wouldn’t have been born. You should definitely follow up on those requests! 😉

  7. Every piece of our lives, even decisions or actions that have unintended consequences or things we only later recognize as mistakes, shape who we are and what we learn about life. I have plenty of regrets about things I’ve done in the past, but I also learned so much about myself and grew from them. It would be impossible for me to write if I hadn’t had the unfortunate experiences of the past, hadn’t experienced heartbreak and betrayal, hadn’t had to face people I’ve hurt or disappointed. I wouldn’t know what it felt like, so I couldn’t write a character feeling those things.

    Not that I’m encouraging any writer to purposely do things they’ll regret just for the experience. I’m just saying that all one’s experiences, good and bad, can be useful to a writer in a positive way.

    • Well put. I agree with everything you said. I really enjoyed reading all the responses here; it’s clear that everyone has regrets, but apparently my readers know better than to let regrets slow them down.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Kira. Always a pleasure! 🙂

  8. For some reason I can’t reply directly to your comment above. Anyway, it’s that metaphysical universe I was trying to describe in a post the other day. It’s conspiring to give you hope and keep you encouraged 🙂

  9. Pingback: The Anatomy of Regret | bottledworder

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