Monday, November 2, 2009

Do you live with regrets or learn from experience?

I asked myself this question today as I perused the past 25 years of my life. I certainly had a lot of experiences and there are more than a few things I regret doing, but to be stuck in the regret would be to not learn from the experiences of the past and not learning from past experiences is perhaps one of the saddest ways to live.

I look at the girl I was at age twenty and I do wish that I could go back and tell that girl that she was way more than she gave herself credit for. She had so very little in the way of self esteem that it would be wonderful to be able to tell her not to give herself away so cheaply. I would tell her that she was smart, funny and not nearly as ugly as she thought she was. My eyes mist over as I remember how little she actually thought of herself - how many hours she spent crying and agonizing about her worth (or lack thereof). I would love to be able to save that girl just a few hours of agony, but since that is impossible, I must push on into the here and now and move on toward the future.

Even if I could go back and tell my 20 year old self the things I needed to hear at the time, knowing myself, I would not listen. I am a 'learn from my own experiences' kind of person and the only way to learn from experience is to experience life and then to take stock in the wrong decisions we made and either keep doing it wrong or try to change things and get it right. In my case multiple stumbles and wrong decisions are often necessary in order to learn the lessons that perhaps seem so simple to others. Who knows if I had actually known my worth at age 20 if that knowledge would have been of any benefit to me. It is useless to speculate, I suppose, but it is interesting none-the-less.

Yes, those experiences - good and bad, shaped the person I have become. We have to give in to the experience and cull out all the junk and keep the good parts that we learn along the way. I can regret that no one ever told me I was worth anything when I was young, or I can thank my God that he was with me even when I didn't think I was worth it. I can regret that I made some bad decisions that could have cost me my life, or I can thank my God that he saved me from myself and taught me countless lessons along the way.

The lessons that I learned made me who I am today. Having made mistakes makes me a more compassionate person. Having had low self esteem myself helps me to be more encouraging to the young people in my life. Sure, there are things I wish I would have done better and choices that would have made more sense, but I can't regret any of it. I have to think of my life as a whole and know that the journey is part and parcel of that life, not just the means to an end, but to be experienced. To live my life with regret would be my biggest regret.