The Irish dramatist George Bernard Shaw coined, "Youth is wasted on the young." He later went on to say, "they're brainless and don't know what they have; they squander every opportunity of being young, on being young."
I read that today and immediately wondered why he said this. I interpreted that he was a little bitter about his own life and possibly felt regretful that he had squandered the opportunities of his youth. I don't know if he did or did not; although I learned about him in school, I am certainly not a George Bernard Shaw historian.
We've all made mistakes; we've all done things we wish we wouldn't have. Some of us have failed to recognize an opportunity and squandered our resources, but life happens, and we aren't perfect.
I've indeed spent many an hour wishing I would have done things differently when I was younger. I know many people wish they could go back and do it over. We think that if we could go back and do it again, we'd be much further along in life. We believe if we could've had a second chance, the relationship wouldn't have ended; the business would've succeeded; we would've graduated from school, or we wouldn't have said that hateful comment.
We've heard it said that we should live a life without regret, that's a good maxim to live by, but I suspect every one of us has regrets. The problem with regret is that if we don't process it the right way, we can allow ourselves to become defined by our failures.
Regret can be helpful if it causes you to make a positive change so that it doesn't happen again, allowing you to become a better person in the process. It's good if the regret forces you to go back and make something right that went wrong.
Maybe it will cause you to go back and finish what you started.
It could cause you to apologize, ask forgiveness, or stop making unhealthy lifestyle choices that you became addicted to long ago.
If you can go back and finish what you started, that's a huge blessing. Get started, and don't waste time!
Sometimes it's been too long; it's too late, and the opportunity has passed. If positive change isn't going to come from your regret, you're just beating yourself up. Is that helping you or harming you? If you beat yourself up for too long, you're in danger of letting your mistakes define who you are.
"I messed up in my last relationship; I'm just bad at relationships.", "I failed in business; I guess I'm a terrible businessperson.", or "I've made such bad choices in life, and I guess that's how I'll always be."
There comes the point when living in regret becomes unhealthy and can lead us down the road of bitterness and resentment. The guilt and the shame that comes with regret can morph into depression and anger. If you allow yourself to feel that way for too long, you'll start to believe that's who you are, and there is no hope for change.
Living in bitterness causes low self-confidence and leaves you unable to have a healthy relationship. You won't be able to see the good in others. You'll only see the bad, and you might blame everyone for genuine or imagined grievances.
Another option is acceptance. Maybe it's time to apologize for beating yourself up for so long. Forgive yourself for making the wrong decisions; stop being so hard on yourself. Just cause you messed up in the past doesn't mean that's who you are. You're only human, and your decisions yesterday don't have to be your decisions today. Let it go, think about the future life you'd like to have, and make decisions that will lead you to that life. When you live like that, the darkness of the past will begin to recede, and the future will shine brighter and brighter.