Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?



Episode 529 Regrets


This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.




I am standing in front of a class not knowing what I am suppose to be teaching. I have no notes. I have on no clothes. I have not prepared. My mind is as stripped as my body. I am being evaluated on this day. Principals sit in the back of the room. I am in deep trouble. Then I wake. We have all had days when we were unprepared for whatever we are suppose to be doing. Thirty years after my teaching days have ended the former dream visits me occasionally. I could have been better prepared many times. Would I do it different if I had it to do over? Yes. Do I regret the lapses in my memory? Yes, but only in my dreams.


Retirement gives us time to think about the past. Mistakes, bad decisions, regrets and empty dreams come to us - many times in the depths of night. Standing in front of class and being completely unprepared is not the only bad thought that recurs in my retirement.


Regrets have a way of wiggling into the mind when we  least expect them. When we let our defenses down they attack. Thinking about regrets isn't easy. I don't look backward very often. Certainly I like a good story from some exotic event in the past. But to mull over the past and dig up old hurts to me or committed by myself doesn't appeal to me.


Dealing with regrets is a topic that was suggested to me by a loyal listener. I thought I could deal with it but it is proving more difficult than I could imagine.


Turning my head backwards and spending time in that position doesn't seem possible. I like to look at the present and the future. Dreams seem to be about the only time mistakes of the past surface.


When I try to think of mistakes, or things where I did something I shouldn't have I usually find an automatic rational for justifying that action or at least tempering it. "I was young and didn't know any better" is the usual excuse. It answers so many questionable actions. I know my wife, my siblings or friends could probably answer this question easily. They would probably have a long list of things that I did where I should have regrets. But those thoughts are in their minds and not mine. And I am glad.


Regrets often stem from partial vision. We remember something that could have turned out more favorable if we would just have ---- fill in the blank. We forget details. Perhaps the reason for our action or thoughts were products beyond our control. Our regrettable action may be the result of unfortunate timing or place. We were born in the wrong place. We were born in the wrong time. We met the wrong person or happened on the wrong event. Our control of what happens to us in life is so very often beyond our control. We are in many ways products of our genetics and environment. When I see young children with their parents it is amazing that we ever consider ourselves to be solely responsible for our own mistakes.We are so very rarely free to choose our actions without outside influence.


These are excuses that temper many regrets. They may be just that - excuses - and then again they may form a more accurate picture of the world in which we live and not of the world in which we wish we lived.


I asked my wife her thoughts about regrets she says, "Don't make yourself to despondent. Nothing you can do about them. Best leave them - I guess." She is probably right.


The only regret I can firmly bring to mind is my lack of compassion for others. I have been impatient with others. I have not understood the complexities of what drives other people's actions. Whenever I dig up a past instance in which I could have been a bit more understandable, tolerant or compassionate I shake my head and wish I had done differently. I do want those regrets to  help guide me in future actions but I don't want to dwell there.


Regrets are actions we have taken that we believe were mistaken. We did something that we wish we could take back or redo. That fact that we cannot reverse time and relive an event make revisiting it of little to no value. Sometimes we need to forgive ourselves as we would somebody else. We can be pretty hard on ourselves.


Retirement does give us time to ponder our regrets but fortunately we are also older and aware of the futility of such thoughts. It may be best to consider regrets as they appear in detail. Then come to an understanding of how they came to happen. Then leave them and do not return.


When events from the past now surface that I might have reason to regret I try to tell myself that I have visited them before and dealt with it. I don't have to do it again. There is no point.


I charge it up to mistakes I have made in life and move on. I will spend as little time there as possible. They will not haunt me. I will not wallow in them. I will not let them steal my time. I will not let today be tainted by yesterday.


When this topic was suggested to me I had a hard time even considering it. I tried to think of regrets I might have and it took some effort. I have let them go over the years. If I were to resurrect them I'm sure I could spend much of my retirement time feeling bad. I'm just not interested. I'm trying to enjoy this phase of life.  


This is Retirement Talk.


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