Regret: The Things I Would Say To My Younger Self

People talk about regret like it’s the old washed up bar whore far past her prime. She’s too old to be the marrying kind, and now finds herself hitting on the ugliest guy in the bar at midnight because she just wants someone to go home with. She’s unfairly judged and little known to anyone. Much like that of what it means to regret. 

Regret is seen as this filthy thing we’re all supposed to pretend we do not feel toward anything ever in our life. Regret is unfairly judged and misunderstood. Regret is that word you mention and everyone chimes in to tell you that it’s a waste of time…just don’t do it. Think about all of the good that came of the situation, and all of that other positive horse shit we feed ourselves when we’re trying to pretend we aren’t busy regretting our choices in life.

I have a confession. I am full of regrets. I don’t feel like they weigh me down. I don’t feel like I’m standing still because I have them. I prefer to have regrets. It means that I didn’t take a path that I should have, but I took one I needed to in order to learn a lesson. It gives me guidance to keep changing and transforming until I do learn. 

There will be plenty of regrets in life. There will also be plenty of victories if I’m actually out there doing things I could potentially regret in order to find the things that progress my life. I’ll be clear and point out that I am not condoning hurting others or just screwing up repeatedly because, “fuck it, that’s why.” Living takes a certain level of screwing up, no doubt. Regret stems from understanding why your choices were wrong…and that doesn’t really coincide with a “fuck it” attitude anyway.

I have found the kind of comfort in regret that you feel with an old friend. Mainly because I’ve tallied up quite a few in 33 years. Some regret flitters away never to return, and some has hung around like the nicotine on the walls of a long gone smoker’s home. Instead of letting my regrets eat me alive (I certainly did do that for a lot of years), I have gathered them together as a form of motivation to appreciate the good things I have done, and the good things yet to come. 

I can’t change any of my past, but I have certainly wondered what I would do if I were given the chance to. What would I say to my younger self? And this is a question that has kept me awake late into the night.

If I could go back and speak to my younger self I would have too much to say. Precisely because I do have regrets, and they have taught me important things. If I could look my 18 year old self in the eyes, I would tell her:

It is okay to feel lonely. It is okay because that loneliness that you feel stems from being different. It is okay if you don’t want to change everything about yourself to fit in. I know the urge to change is great because that’s the easier thing to do, but try to refrain. Someday someone who understands you will come along, but you will miss them if you are busy changing yourself and hating yourself just to fit in. The loneliness will go away so I encourage you not to give in and conform to something you don’t recognize.

Don’t put too much of your heart into things that do not make your life better. Do not expend too much energy on things that leave you feeling empty. 

Do not try to save other people from themselves in the hopes that they will love you. That isn’t love you are receiving. It is gratitude and appreciation. Those things are limited and will fade, unlike love. Do not mistake the two. You are only asking for pain and misery when you’re looking for love through saving others from themselves. It means you are not busy enough loving yourself. Not everyone is going to love you, and that’s perfectly okay. Not everyone is meant for you. Be patient.

Don’t rush into a long term relationship just because your friends are settling down, getting married, and having kids. I know it’s hard to be the third wheel, and you will spend many years playing that role. Trust me when I tell you that it is worth it to get to know yourself better. Your friends are not truly happier because they settled down so young. I promise. Take your time. Get to know who you are and what you want. 

Don’t settle for just anyone. That has never positively served anyone. It will also end up hurting both you and the person you settled with. You will always have one foot out the door because you have lowered your standards and intentionally set yourself up for failure with the wrong guy.

Take that journalism scholarship. I know right now you do not believe this is what you want to do with your life, but it is better to take it and at least have the option should you change your mind than to forget about it and wonder if writing was your calling for the next 15 years. You will have to go about everything the hard way and your dreams, should writing be one of them, may be harder to pursue. So take the scholarship. Open a door and give that path a chance because I can safely say that this will haunt you for years to come if you don’t. If it is not for you, you can always do something else later. If you do not at least try…you will wonder about it for a very long time. It will rest in the back of your mind and make an appearance many, many times as you are busy on a completely different path in life. You will have to hone your craft, but you are good enough. Just do it.

There are some curiosities in your life that should remain curiosities. Whether it be people, places, situations. Don’t give in to temptation over every curiosity you have the opportunity to explore. Especially with people. It is unfair in various ways. It will leave you feeling empty and the things you expected to find there will not likely be found. You will set standards that will be impossible for some people, places, and situations to achieve. It will leave others feeling bad. Keeping some things as curiosities is healthy. Do that. 

Just because an opportunity presents itself does not mean it is the right opportunity for you. Chancing every seeming opportunity will lead you to the long way around life. A lot of the time it will lead you down dead end roads that you will have to back track from and this will cost you precious time.

Do not lower your standards for any reason. Not for anyone or any situation. It will not lead you to the people and places you want in life. It will not help you to grow and become better. Instead, it will weigh you down with the heavy anchor of bad decisions born from too low standards. Do not question whether your standards are too high. Set them high, and keep them there. It will leave you hungry for better things in your life, and if you are striving for that, you will not be grasping for low hanging fruits. 

Do not believe that just because someone says they love you that they will act in your best interest. It may be true that many people will love you along the way, but you will find that some of them will only love their idea of you. This is not the same thing. It feels good to be loved by people, but not when it isn’t the right kind of love. It is not the right kind of love when someone tells you they love you, but is constantly acting in their own best interest at your expense. This will hurt you in ways that I cannot even begin to explain. It will leave you feeling unworthy in a lot of ways. I am not worthy is a lie you will tell yourself far too often. Do not buy into that. 

Trust that in life you will love many people, but not all of them will be for your successes. Not all of them will be meant to stand next to you from start to finish. Believe them when they tell you they love you, but understand that some people are so damaged that the receiving of their brand of love hurts. It does not make them bad people, but it also does not make you a bad person to choose not to hurt for someone who does not have your best interest in mind. Understand that not all love is good love to have. It is your responsibility not to settle for second best.

Be as kind as you can. You will find yourself having to let even great people down gently because even if they are great, they are not right for you. Be easy on them and remember that you are holding someone’s heart in your hands. Whether it pertains to friendships or romantic interests, do not aim to hurt someone just because you can. You’ll have the same done to you at some point along the way. I hope you understand this before that happens. When it does, remember that this is not a penance you are having to repay. It is an experience that life has given you to keep you loving, humble, and kind.

 Do not aim to be cruel because someone else has been cruel to you. I know it will be tempting, but just remember that a broken hearted fool will break hearts, too. Be as kind as you possibly can be in all situations. Even if your own heart is breaking. Even if someone has been unkind to you. This will serve you much better than surrendering to bad behavior.

 It is worth it to turn the other cheek. What might feel good in a moment of hurt will give you pause later in life. You will find yourself wishing you had done things differently, but you will be unable to change the past. Try to turn the other cheek.

Do not engage in the game of comparison. There will always be a girl skinnier than you. There will always be a girl “fatter” than you. One will be prettier, and one might be uglier. One will have more money, and one will have less. Do not waste time comparing yourself to others. You will become so busy comparing that you will miss the beauty in everyone you encounter, and you will not feel any better about yourself. 

Do not stay too long in relationships with people that do not respect you. If it feels wrong, and out of sorts, that’s because it is. Stop telling yourself to trust people that give you absolutely no reason to trust them. You feel off because the relationship IS off. 

 Walk away from every single relationship that makes you feel bad. 

Your heart is going to break into a million pieces, but you are stronger than you know. More resilient than you can even fathom. Let your heart break, and know that you will recover. You will love better, and more wisely for having gone through it. You will wake up each day, and put one foot in front of the other right smack dab in the middle of that disaster…and you will survive. There will be days when you want to curl up into yourself and forget the world’s existence. There will be days when you do not want to get out of bed or shower. Get out of bed anyway. Shower anyway. Brush your teeth, and put on something that makes you feel good. 

Remember that nothing lasts forever, not even pain.

Enjoy the cookie. Remember all things in moderation, and you can have that cookie. You can eat a half pan of brownies, too. Just don’t do it all of the time. Enjoy them. They make life bearable at times. Do not believe that food will console you long term, but do not treat food as the enemy either. Enjoy the cookie every once in a while. Enjoy a lot of them. Then get off of the couch and do something.

Apply for the job even if you are not qualified. What is the harm in trying? There may be someone out there more qualified than you, but it has never hurt your odds by throwing your resume into the race. The person they are looking for may not look anything like you, but what does that have to do with anything? Sometimes people don’t know what they are looking for until they find it, and you might be it. So, apply for the job even if you do not feel confident that you will get it. The only failure is in never trying at all.

Go to the gym. I know some days you feel like you have no time. I know life gets busy. I know motivation is lacking, but you don’t have to be motivated to go to the gym. Just go. Walk in. The rest will work itself out, and you will thank yourself later for it. You are worth investing time into. You are worth the effort it takes to keep you healthy and in working order. Go to the gym, and spend time on bettering yourself. You will appreciate that more than trips to the spa or salon. There is no substitute for total mind, body, and soul care. You will find that in the gym. Life is about balance and you have already enjoyed the cookies. You owe it to yourself to get up and go.

Take the Jehova’s Witness pamphlet. It is not a binding contract that chains you to a life of servitude in a religious philosophy. It will not hurt you to be kind. This is what being open minded is about. This small act will change you because you paid a kindness to someone that you do not see eye-to-eye with. That is the most difficult thing to do in this life. If you figure out how to graciously accept something from someone you do not have common ground with, you are farther along than you believe.

The moment you decide that you are more right than someone else, the moment you believe you are better than others is the moment your growth stagnates. 

Remember that you do not have to buy a product just because you are browsing the market. This applies to every category in life. It is okay to look, question, and explore.

That being said, buy the outfit. If you tried it on and you love yourself in it, buy it. Everyone loves a sale, but not everything in life is a bargain just because it is on sale. Some things are worth buying at full price. I know that there are other things you could have purchased instead. I know you want to travel the world someday. You will find a way to make all of that happen, but you will miss out on an opportunity if you pass up the outfit. There are few clothes out there that really make a person feel great, so I do not recommend passing on an outfit that does. Saving is great, but not if it means you are letting opportunities pass you by. If you die young, the only thing you will have to show for it is a full savings account and a bad wardrobe. Or at least a wardrobe you didn’t love, but found on clearance. Buy the outfit.

Own a brand new car once in your life, and then never do it again. It is worth the experience of owning a brand new car just once in life. You cannot recreate the sense of achievement of having that experience. You cannot recreate the smell of a brand new car. Feel good and accomplished. Breathe in that smell. Work for the next 3-6 years paying that car off, and then never buy a brand new car again. 

See the world. Find a way to take little trips here and there. Especially when you are young. It’s easy to tell yourself you will do it when you graduate. You will see the world when work slows down. You will go when you have enough money. You will travel when the kids are older. Whatever scenario life will present you, find time to travel. You cannot guarantee you will have the time because life does not guarantee endless time to any of us. So make the time to travel here and there. Scratch some destinations off of your list. You do not have to spend a lot of money to have a memorable experience. You can stay in the cheaper hotel. The trip is not about the hotel you stayed in. You can eat in the cheaper establishments. They usually have the better food anyway. The trip is about the things you will discover, and you will not discover much of anything in a fancy restaurant or an expensive hotel room.

When life is weighing you down, remember that you are a very small part of a giant and ever expanding universe. You are a living, breathing part of something much bigger than you can possibly imagine. You will find yourself feeling lost in the world, and forgetting how truly amazing your existence is. The fact that you even stand on this giant rock in a vast space is mind blowing. Hold on to that truth when you feel your problems are too great. They are tiny problems with remarkable answers. Take the time to look up at the stars and ponder just how small you are in the bigger picture, and never forget how incredible you are simply because you exist. You are made up of everything in the universe and the universe is made up of everything in you. You are amazing.

Remember to laugh at yourself. You are human. You are a fuck up just like the rest of us. Find the humor in who you are, the mistakes you have made, and laugh at yourself every once in a while. It is more therapeutic than you know.

If you choose to ignore everything else I have said, then please hear this. You will be okay. You will bounce back from every single obstacle you face, and you will be just fine. Even if you listen to nothing I have said to you, you will figure all of this out eventually. I know you will be perfectly okay because I am the future you.

Author’s note: Someecards.com is a great place to go for a laugh on just about any subject of life. Clearly I am fond of them.

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