Regret: The Price of Being Human

What if the idea that you can live with “no regrets” is a lie? What if regardless of your best human efforts, some regret in this life is the price of being human?

These questions came to me very early on a recent Monday morning. I was alone in the gym and my thoughts turned to the past… 

I grew up playing competitive golf. I was not pushed into this, but I did come from a family of golfers. In fact, my father was quite accomplished: First Team All-American at Purdue University, United States Mid-Amateur Champion, Walker Cup Team Player, and my personal favorite, 1984 invitee to the Masters.

He never pressured me with golf. I want to make that clear before going on. That said, I always wanted to be accomplished like him. But, by the time I finished my high school career, I did not have the drive to keep playing competitive golf. So, I declined an opportunity to “walk-on” to Purdue University’s golf team.  

Fast forward to the present. The day prior to my Monday morning gym experience, I had played an abysmal round of 9 holes of golf. It was so bad that I found myself doubting my self-worth and whether I was good enough at anything in my life. As dramatic as that sounds, golf sometimes brings this kind of darkness out of me.

Then, my mind went back to Purdue. Before long, I was in a mental free-fall conjuring up all my past regret around not playing golf there. The coaching, along with the practice it would have taken, would have helped me mature as both a golfer and as a man. More importantly, this realization left me with the reality of never knowing what my potential could have been. 

Can anyone reading this post relate to feeling a similar kind of regret about the past?

Is there a moment of your life where you would like a “mulligan?” 

The example I have shared above is just one of the many examples of regret I have. There are things I have said, and things I have done, that I would love to take a “mulligan” on. Trust me, a few are more consequential than golf. 

But, life does not come with “breakfast balls,” or do-overs, does it?  

So, maybe the price of being human is living with some amount of regret. 

My goal in writing weekly posts is to encourage leaders. Leaders, at the most basic level, are people others follow. One reason this is so is because leaders care for other people first. Unfortunately, this care for others can tempt leaders to brush aside things like regret. Let’s be honest, caring for others is noble, while dealing with past regret is messy.

As I have argued repeatedly on this blog, leaders need to first lead themselves. In regard to regret, this means that leaders need to get acclimated to what they are feeling around regret. 

Personalizing this, and adding to what I have already shared above, this means I have to get real in regard to my past about golf in general and not basing my self-worth on performance. 

Below I will share two things I do to gain perspective and move past regret. 

First, I spend time reflecting on the kind of regret I have in my life. Admittedly, not “walking-on” to the Purdue golf team is kind of like a “first world” sort of regret. While I do legitimately regret it, it is not the kind that will haunt me on my death bed.

A thought that struck me in between sets at the gym on that Monday morning was this: Allow yourself to have regret over the right things and peace over the better. 

What that meant to me is that golf falls into the “right” category, meaning it is a “good” endeavor, but not a “better” one. For me, “better” equates to my faith, marriage, parenthood, and relationships with family. 

So, with this renewed perspective not only can I move past regret, but I also have a perspective to share with others that might be encouraging to them. 

Second, my faith in Jesus is also instructive on this topic. I do not believe it to be coincidence that my Bible reading this same Monday morning was Matthew 11. Specifically, the verses between 25-30. It highlights that the Father (God) revealed the Son (Jesus). Jesus said, “all things have been committed to me by the Father” (verse 27). Therefore, “come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you REST” (verse 28, emphasis mine). 

At the risk of sounding a little strange to some, this scripture reminded me that rest is found in Jesus because all things have been committed to him. 

By its nature, regret is opposed to rest. No one says they slept well after filling their minds with all their past regrets. To this end, any advice around not thinking about regret is also not helpful. As the scripture above reminds, we have to place it in the hands of a “higher power”. We simply cannot let go of things like regret on our own power. 

While I cannot speak for you, I can say that in Jesus I have found peace in all aspects of my past. This most assuredly includes all the things I have regret over. I share this because I never knew how much my past weighed me down until I gave it to Him. His assertion, therefore, in verse 30, “for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” is the culmination of living in this reality. 

I have found these two ideas to be helpful starting points in regard to regret. Leaders are the kind of people others follow because they are worth following. But, we cannot give what we do not possess. So, I guide you to stop toiling in yesterday’s regret. Rather, let’s come to a place of internal peace so that we can share the peace we discover with those we lead.