The Power of Regret

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“I regret not having spent more time with my mother.”

President Obama got personal Sunday when he spoke of regret to University of Malaya students and South East Asia leaders during a visit to Kuala Lumpur.

“Because she died early — she got cancer right around when she was my age, actually, she was just a year older than I am now — she died.  It happened very fast, in about six months.”

The president wasn’t above being honest enough to admit his regrets. He’ll forever second-guess the time he didn’t spend with his mother, Ann Dunham, who was 52 when she died of ovarian cancer in 1995. In searching our own past, we likely will find at least one thing that we regret. We strive to live life absent of any regret and to live everyday as if it was our last, to tell all of the people that we care about that we love them. We hope to make every decision with one thought in mind, and that is to never look back and ask “What if?”

Magnolia_posterUnfortunately, all of us wish for a time machine to go back and do things differently. I recently watched the movie Magnolia, directed and written by Paul Thomas Anderson. This is one of my favorite movies, one that I consider Tom Cruise’s best acting job. When character Earl Partridge is dying of cancer, he lies in bed stricken with not only physical pain, but emotional hurt and torment due to his past. He utters the best line when he talks about his ex-wife, whom he cheated on and abandoned with cancer. In doing so he forced his son, Frank T.J. Mackey, (played by Tom Cruise) to be his mother’s caretaker until her death.

Earl Partridge, played by the late Jason Robards, ironically died of lung cancer in 2000, just one year after he made the movie. As he lay dying in the movie, Partridge speaks to nurse Phil Parma (played by the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman) about regret:

“I loved her so. And she knew what I did. She knew all the fucking stupid things I’d done. But the love… was stronger than anything you can think of. The goddamn regret. The goddamn regret! Oh, and I’ll die. Now I’ll die, and I’ll tell you what… the biggest regret of my life… I let my love go. What did I do? I’m sixty-five years old. And I’m ashamed. A million years ago… the fucking regret and guilt, these things … Don’t ever let anyone ever say to you (that) you shouldn’t regret anything. Don’t do that. Don’t! You regret what you fucking want! Use that. Use that. Use that regret for anything, any way you want. You can use it, OK? Oh, God.”

Interestingly enough, Partridge advises to harness the power of regret to better ourselves, as a catalyst in your life to decided never to regret anything again. We can learn from our mistakes and choices that left us feeling as if we’d wish we had done things differently. We can decide from this moment forward to not take for granted everything we do have in life.

Maybe we can hug our kids a little tighter, spend time with our spouse or partner. We can smile to strangers, genuinely ask how their day is and take time to watch the sunset, thankful that we can admire its beauty.

It’s not always the big catastrophes that we wish we could have avoided. When our life is on the line or when a loved one passes, it’s often all the little moments that we wished we had to do over again.

Decide today that you will take full advantage of this precious thing called life that you’ve been given. Decide to live every moment consciously, making all of your decisions ones that will leave you without any regret. You’ll look back on your life and at the very least say that you sincerely tried and gave it your all. You’ll look back and have no regrets.

What is a better feeling then that?

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