AI: Regrets

As I suspect is the case with most of our readers, I don’t believe in fate. Because of this, I tend to look at most of my decisions, good and bad alike, as integral to who I am and where my life has taken me. If I had the ability to take something back, I can only think of one thing that I would consider. It was a small, stupid thing, many years ago, done out of impulse, that hurt someone I cared about.

What about you? Do you view your decisions through a similar lens? Do you have any regrets?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

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  1. I have plenty of regrets, but I can’t say that I’d undo any of them. After all, what we do – good or bad – makes us into who we are today. Perhaps if I had made a different decision in the past, my life would be very different now.

    I know that if I’d taken a job that was offered to me several years ago, I’d never have met my wife. I did regret not taking the job for a couple of years, though that has obviously changed now!

    Maybe all those other decisions are being played out in other quantum universes, who knows? And to quote the son of the man who proposed the many worlds interpretation, “And I had some regrets, but if I had to do it all again, well, it’s something I’d like to do.”

  2. I guess it is because I am a big scifi geek, but my wife and I often discuss the ethics of time travel.

    When we got married, I was a very godly young man so, naturally, I had an almost crippling guilt complex. I thought, probably more then was healthy about going back in time and not doing this, not saying that, not smooching so-and-so.

    But as I started to reject the god hypothesis I started to think, maybe I wasn’t such a colossal failure. I realized that am the sum of memories and if I changed my experiences I wouldn’t be me anymore.

    The hardest part of being an atheist at first was the fact my wife had married me be in part because of what a great Christian I was, and I had turned into someone she wouldn’t marry if she had the chance. Later, when she came to love the new me, she commented how glad she was she couldn’t really go back and prevent young, dumb her, from marring me.

    In the end, regrets are stupid. We become who we are by taking huge risks. Sometimes that works out great. Sometimes we get fucked up beyond all reason.

    But going back and preventing those risks which resulted in those moments would make us immature, soft, weak, and ultimately less than we could be. Like people who pray their way through things, we’d be going through life in cheat mode.

  3. While I have several mistakes that I regret, I wouldn’t want to go back and change anything. Because when I look at what I’ve learned, and who I’ve become by making those mistakes, it makes the pain/humiliation/et worth it.

  4. My only real regret is passing up the chance to teach a lesson (i.e. beat to a pulp) a guy at school when I was 15.

    At the time I foolishly believed I was being “the bigger man”, in retrospect I could have had the satisfaction of beating seven shades of shite out of him and things would have still worked out the same.

    Oh and when I was in 23 I dumped the most amazing woman in the world because I wanted to “devote myself fully to science”, while she wanted us to settle down together. That was the wrong thing to do on many levels.

  5. Agree with the commentors here that my mistakes have helped to make me what I am today.

    That’s not to say, it would’ve been less painful at times if there were a better way to get here without as many mistakes.

  6. It’s been said many times in this thread about the whole “it makes me who I am”, and I totally stick to this like some kind of horse-glue, but….

    I regret not taking a physical science in university. It’s just that I’m so damn terrible at anything remotely mathematical. I’m proud of my education, and I *enjoy* seeing the way the humanities are mocked in the skeptic community (in many cases, we deserve it, but I’m glad I know how to identify when people misuse words like “feminism”, “gender” and “class”). But a BSc would be great to go with my BA, and maybe if I had one I wouldn’t feel like I need to over-compensate by continually reminding people that I have an actual education……

    Edukashun insecuritee….I haz it.

  7. I’m not of the “Better to regret doing something, than regret not doing something”-school of though, so I tend to do little.
    I would probably be happier being a slightly different person, but I’m not, and I’m fairly happy, so no regrets.

  8. Along the same lines as all of the posts made so far, being only 21 with not much to go off of, there are certainly things I wish I hadn’t wasted my time with in high school, but I wouldn’t know why they were a waste of time had I not done them.

    Learn from your mistakes, continue what you’ve done well :P

  9. Sure, I have some regrets. I’ve done stupid, careless, thoughtless stuff. But there is nothing I can do to change what happened in the past. All I can do is move on and learn from my dumbosity, and hope that the past will influence my future and enable me to do better.
    If the chance ever comes up to make up for wrongs that I’ve done, though, I’ll take them. I mean, I’m not going to go all Earl Hickey about it (especially since sometimes things are best left in the past, or left alone because bringing them up only reopens old wounds), but if something comes up, I try to make amends. Because this is the only life we have in which to make those amends.

  10. No regrets, really. Certainly not for anything I’ve done. Some wondering occasionally about the roads not taken.
    Life isn’t perfect, but whatever the imperfections, I can change if I choose to because of lessons learned on the roads I have taken.

  11. I almost joined the army going into college but then didn’t, and now that I’m saddled with debt I sometimes wish I had, but not to the point of regretting the decision.

    I was well on my way to doing a piece of publishable research for my honors thesis as an undergrad in Psychology but abandoned it to pick up a double degree in Philosophy, prematurely aborting my career as a scientist. After some time away from academia I think I might act differently if I had it to do over, but again, not really a full regret.

    And of course there are times when I’ve lied or been mean and times I’ve said things that were stupid or embarrassing. Those come the closest for me.

    But ultimately lots of really great stuff has happened to me too, and much of it never would have if I had ended up in Iraq or in a Psych lab or if I were just timid enough to never put my foot in my mouth, so I’ve learned to shrug it off I guess.

  12. I think similarly about who I am, but I also take into consideration that while I am the sum of my parts (including experience and biological parts), this does not mean that I don’t have regrets or shouldn’t have them. While I am the sum of my parts, sometimes my parts interfere with other people’s development in becoming the sum of their parts (if that makes any sense at all). I think that I can only be as valuable as my contribution to the world around me and so my regrets are rooted in how they have affected others, and possibly led to negatively altering them as they have evolved into what they are now. If I am the sum of my parts and I am only as valuable as how I have affected the world around me, then having regrets about how I have affected others seems like an entirely rational thing to have, especially if such regrets have changed my approach to life now in a positive manner.

  13. Truthwalker as a good point when he says “We become who we are by taking huge risks. Sometimes that works out great. Sometimes we get fucked up (or fuck up) beyond all reason.”

    I also think SophieHirschfeld has a very good view when she says, “If I am the sum of my parts and I am only as valuable as how I have affected the world around me, then having regrets about how I have affected others seems like an entirely rational thing to have, especially if such regrets have changed my approach to life now in a positive manner.”

    I don’t agree that regrets are stupid, though. Regrets can be emotional reminders of how doing or not doing action “x” turned out last time. For good or bad, they are aids to memory.

    I have many regrets, as I’ve posted here occasionally. The ones that bother me the most are the ones where I have hurt someone I care about (as I did recently to my lifelong regret) or made a major life decision under undue outside influence, like imposed religious beliefs or under the influence of previous damage (ACoA).

    I think it depends on how one feels about how one’s life has turned out so far. I also think that each of us will change our views on this as we age. I know that I have as I see the calendar of my life enter “late August.”

    I find it incomprehensible that one of my friends says that she has no regrets about her life at all. That almost sounds like denial to me – and that way lies doom and madness, at least for me. If she’s being truthful, then she has a kind of peace about her life that I’ll never know.

    @KevinF: To quote King Coffee:
    “It is better to regret something you did, than to regret something you didn’t do.”

    Believe me when I tell you how true that really can be. That is exactly the dilemma I find myself in at my early 50’s. At this pont, I find myself trying to salvage as much as I can of my remaining life. I’m not so much afraid of dying as I am of finding out that I never have lived…

  14. No offense to King Coffee, but I don’t really believe that. I think that we say things like that because we are familiar with regretting not taking action on some things that we remember and we *think* may have benefited us. It isn’t true, though, that hindsight is 20/20. I think our optimistic side sometimes takes over and tells us that we are missing out on things. This may be true at times, but I doubt that our the way we perceive missed opportunities is even close to 100% accurate. I’m pretty sure that odds of things we missed going the way we imagine are no different than the odds of things we try going the way we imagined. This means that sometimes it may be rational to regret doing something, but that it also may often not be rational to regret such a thing. This also means that regretting things we’ve done is probably no different, rationally, than regretting things we didn’t do. The measure of the events of our lives is up to us to determine and sometimes that means letting go of regretting things we didn’t do and realizing that it only matters if the negative impact of not doing that thing has been greater than the net gain.

  15. @kevinf: I doubt people in jail for murder would fit well into this theory.

    There are indeed mistakes of commission and mistakes of omission. I figure if you about the same number of each, you are probably doing pretty well.

  16. @SophieHirschfeld: I’m gonna have to disagree with your disagreement. Whether they would’ve benefited me or not is ultimately irrelevant, the life experience alone would have been. Too often I have passed up chances out of fear, laziness or just plain old risk aversion that if I had done them may have benefited me by just getting me over that hump of inaction. I have very few regrets about things that I have done, and more regrets about things I didn’t. Not because I think my life would have been necessarily better than it is right now, but I would have had experiences and at least a story or two to tell.

    He isn’t dead yet, you still have time to at least meet him.

  17. Sure, I have regrets – tons and tons of them, mostly things I wish I’d done differently because they turned out poorly. My main “coping mechanism”, if you want to call it that, is to remind myself that I made the best decision I could based on the information I had AT THAT TIME. Most of the time, this lets me sleep at night, so it’s all good. ;-)

  18. Mistakes, sure lots and I hope I’ve learned from a few. Regrets, not many really. There are no do-over’s and I’m not the type that tends toward nurturing and feeding the memories of unpleasant events or decisions gone wrong. And like Popeye almost said, I yam where I yam!

  19. I guess I shouldn’t say regrets are, stupid, but maybe pointless? I don’t think, without god, I can view my life as grand narrative. My life is going, but its not going anywhere. To a point I regret not having more sex with teenagers when I was one and such a thing wasn’t creepy. The problem is, if became the person who lost his virginity at 15, I would have meet my wife not as Johnny Awkward, but as someone a bit more experienced. Since she feel in love with the big geek I was, changing that about myself would likely cost me my wife. Which result in the non-existence of my daughter, which is incredibly sad.

    So even regretting something simple like being the big Doctor Who watching prude I was, could take the 2 most important people out of my life.

  20. @The Skepdick:

    I have the BS, so I married into a BA

    You can just DO that? Holy smokes! We were always taught that those in the physical sciences didn’t know HOW to love! That you were cold, uncaring robots sent from the dark recesses of the left-side of the brain in order to make water pipes work and to give calculators things to do! Are your children by chance made up of anti-matter?

    Us BA people, we pick each other up with the following phrase: “Hey baby, want my labour-theory of value to engage in a dialectical materialism with your politics of reproduction? You bring the trade protectionism and I’ll bring my wang, The Leviathan!”

    Think it doesn’t work? That’s because you’re underdeveloped right-side of the brain won’t let you think outside your logarithms and your spriographs, and your…Grey’s Anatomy, you ROBOT! Also, it doesn’t work. We’re awfully busy calling each other racist, you see.

  21. @killyosaur42: “Too often I have passed up chances out of fear, laziness or just plain old risk aversion that if I had done them may have benefited me by just getting me over that hump of inaction.” Exactly my point.

    @CelticGoddess1326: “.. is to remind myself that I made the best decision I could based on the information I had AT THAT TIME.”

    My problem is that in the instances I’m most regretful of, it wasn’t that I didn’t have the information. It was that I was too fearful or introverted to take advantage of the opportunities. Now it’s too late, either literally or because changing those decisions would involve hurting lots of people. That’s not fair to them. I didn’t take the “road less traveled” and now I regret it because it likely was the right road.

  22. @The Skepdick:

    I don’t even want to click on the Myers-Briggs thing….I’ve encountered that thing so many times….

    If it’s any consolation, even in the humanities, most of us laugh that thing out of the room, and the only people who still use it generally are the people who haven’t figured out how outdated it is…..Myers Briggs is SOOOOO 1999!

  23. @Some Canadian Skeptic: Bwahahahah! You’re a hoot–love your posts!

    I think I perhaps swing both ways, being in the fuzzy-ish social sciences. I got a BS as an undergrad, though I had met the requirements for both a BA and BS (at my university the main difference was taking more maths/stats or languages–I did both).

    On the topic of regrets, yes, I have some, but like freddyzchic, I don’t dwell on them. My experiences have made me who I am, and I’m OK with that. Between that, therapy and meds, life’s pretty good. ;)

  24. Jeez, I’ve lost track of how many regrets I have and how many things I would like to go back and do differently. For the most part I can just let it all go and carry on. But there are some major doozies that I really, really wish I could do over.

  25. when looking back on my life so far, there are some things (actually many things I wish I could have done differently or all-together avoided). Things like, telling my first love Sabrina what she meant to me before she disappeared from my life (have not seen her in 15 years), like asking my Mum who my biological father was when I was little so that I wouldn’t have had to bottle up all that went with it until I was 25, like being less shy when someone took a fancy to me, and simply putting more a priority on myself while I also put everything I am into those that matter most to me.

    These and more are things that some might look at as regrets, but to me they are what helped make me into the person I am today. And, today I have the greatest friends (a good deal of them being the wonderful skepchicks) in the world, the greatest partner in the world (carr2d2), and would not change that in an instant. You all know who you all are and I love you all, and am honoured to share my life (in all its good times and not-so-good times) with you all. Sorry if that sounded cheesy or overly sappy, but I mean every single word.

  26. @The Skepdick: BAAAH!!! GODDAMMIT! I clicked your summamabitch link! Sweet jesus that test is MIND-BOGGLINGLY STUPID!!!!

    I’ve taken it 3 times in 5 years. First time I was an INFP, second time I was an ISTJ, 3rd time I was a ENTP….

    That thing is laughably ridiculous and no self-respecting psychologist (which is one of those ‘in-between’ disciplines that straddle both the physical sciences and the humanities) uses that anymore.

    It was borne out the 1960’s paradigm shift that taught that all knowledge is perceived through the individual biases and prejudices. It’s by definition the most self-centered view of the world that a person can have….another word for this is ‘postmodernism’. Myers-Briggs is a direct product of that intellectual movement.

    And it makes me want to believe in a soul, and then believe that that soul is on fire.

  27. Regrets? I’ve had a few,
    But then again, too few to mention.
    I did what I had to do
    And saw it through without exemption.

    I planned each charted course –
    Each careful step along the byway,
    And more, much more than this,
    I did it my way

    Sorry , Mr Sinatra and Skepchick readers, I couldn’t resist.
    No, I’ve been fortunate. No regrets. Mistakes yes. Regrets ? No.

  28. Oh. Em. Effing. Gee. do I ever have regrets.

    First, let’s just say there is a certain arrest that I would avoid had I the necessary time machine.

    Second, I would have been more active in HS. What did all that sleeping get me?

    Third, I would be all Ashton Kutcher in “The Butterfly Effect” over one particular love lost. I know there is probably no way to get it to work out, but it would be worth a shot.

  29. Haha! Some_Canadian_Skeptic – that’s BRILLIANT!! I gotta get me some BSc action, I had no idea we were compatible?

    The only thing I wish I’d done when I was younger was to speak up when something’s wrong (especially in relationships), as I’m only now getting to the point where I know I deserve respect. It’s like there’s a “self respect” button that switches off the second some wanker tells me he loves me! That’s my biggest recurring regret :-(

    On a lighter note, a lot of “mistakes” I made in my formative years paved the way for some of the great things that have happened recently so I guess it’s all swings and roundabouts. I’ve also got to give a shout out to many family members who have made catastrophic mistakes in order that I can avoid them :-)

  30. Not focusing on school

    Trying to move to FL

    Not being more caring (See AI 7/26)

    And a whole list of decisions that started a path I didn’t want to go. I’m not doing bad, by any stretch of the term, but I’m not doing as well as I could.

  31. Certainly I’ve done, and not done, a lot of things I wish were otherwise. But the thing is… even as far back as high school, I was starting to get the feeling that I didn’t have as much “free will” as the other people around me. 20+ or so years later, I discovered that this early intuition was, in fact, correct!

    Having learned that I’m on the autistic spectrum, I can now look back and see how a lot of the situations which I’d formerly thought involved simply bad choices, turn out to have been heavily influenced, even determined, by the disabilities arising from my NLD — in many cases that I’d thought were lack of courage, I was clearly (in retrospect) retreating from an overload situation, or unable to respond to someone because I was already overloaded. Many instances of “poor judgment” were almost fully determined, instead, by my poor social perception and lack of role modeling. And so on….

    And of course, being on the spectrum wasn’t a choice at all — not only were symptoms visible (though not understood) from my birth, but my family history indicates a strong heritable component!

  32. Like @halincoh I also thought of “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention”.

    But I was thinking of the cool Sid Vicious version where he shoots members of the audience afterwards…

  33. I have regrets, however I think our brains are wired to think that if we’d made different choices in retrosepct things would have worked out better, when in fact they may have been better or worse or pretty similar overall.
    We just would have met a different set of people and circumstances from the ones we did meet. We would have reacted to those in just the same manner as we still carry the same behaviour patterns and thoughts that make us ourselves.

  34. @Karen Stollznow: I love that version. It’s highly entertaining.
    @Circe of the Godless: Personally, I’m not all that interested in changing what I have now, I would just have preferred living a bit more. Granted I ate’nt dead yet so I can still make that change and fully intend to.


    Haha! Some_Canadian_Skeptic – that’s BRILLIANT!! I gotta get me some BSc action, I had no idea we were compatible?

    Always worth a shot. We nerdy types are rather good catches or so I’ve heard, from sources.

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