How to Fight a Ghost

If comparison is the thief of joy, then regret is its accomplice.

Lately I have been struggling with replaying my past mistakes in my head. It’s plays like a bad movie on repeat in my brain, the images ranging between small-scale foibles and life-altering blunders strung together in a cacophonous timeline that I would much rather forget entirely. I’ve named it my Ghost of Bad Choices Past, one that haunts and persistently berates me for doing (or not doing) X instead of Y.

Looking back on life, there are people that I wish I wouldn’t have met, choices that I would change, conversations I would have had, energy I wish I would have kept rather than wasting on people who didn’t deserve it, parties that I would have attended (or skipped)… so many things that I would have done differently. It’s easy for me to look back on these mistakes and believe that if we would have zigged rather than zagged that life as we know it would be much better.

And yet, my dear friend (and fellow blogger) Mike Béon said something to me earlier this week as I began to put on the boxing gloves to beat myself up once again: “The choices we make now become lessons learned tomorrow. As long as you learn from it, it’s all good.”

As usual, he’s right.

Unfortunately, many of us have the habit of critiquing past behavior with current knowledge. It’s easy to lament the poor decisions I made at 15 with the insight I now have in my 30s. It’s all too simple to experience the outcome of a missed opportunity or an impulsive move and go “If I knew this would have happened, I would have done A instead of B.” What we fail to realize is that we, in fact, did not know and thus we acted according to the knowledge, the capacity, the emotions, or the fears we had at that time in that moment. We did the best we could with what we knew and what appeared to be available at that time, and there is no shame in that.

It is with this understanding that I am learning to forgive myself for choices that I have made and choices that I will inevitably make that will not turn out well in my favor. As long as I can walk away from any situation learning the lesson and doing better the next time it comes around, I can hold my head high and keep going. As Demetria Lucas quoting her grandmother says: “Just keep living. Life is a funny thing and it has a way of working itself out again,” even in what seems to be the rubble after an egregious failure.

So, how do we fight the ghost of regret? By forgiving yourself and doing better next time.

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