The Hollywood Reporter recently posted an article titled “Jennifer Aniston Has No Regrets.” I’ve seen, now and then, similar slogans expressed by this or that celebrity/other.
On the one hand, I recognize this may represent a coming-to-terms with our past, a way to convey forgiveness to ourselves. Yet I fear it accidentally points to a dangerous inability to understand maturity, or to acknowledge growth—of which failure is a part. It has certain similarities to those politicians (or other leaders) who can never admit to changing their minds for fear it might be branded as “flip-flopping.”
What both share is rigidity.
To my mind, as we age, we either ossify, like bone, or learn to bend like a willow.
Having no regrets, like never changing one’s mind, suggests an inability to learn from our own past. To grow, and change.
Biologically, at 57, most of the cells in my body are not the same ones I had at 20, or 30, or even 40, although my neurons are another matter, so perhaps my analogy is wonky. Yet I like to think that I’ve become a different person across those years. Less sure of myself and so more tolerant, less impetuous and so more judicious, less ambitious but more determined.
One doesn’t get to those places without regrets. Without mistakes. Without being a least a little broken.
A wise person is able to change their mind when presented with new evidence, or new experience.
A kind person is able to acknowledge regrets and learn from them in such a way they can offer grace to others who also fail, or at least don’t achieve what they once dreamed of.
Regrets aren’t a sign of weakness. From Ernst Hemmingway’s masterpiece, A Farewell to Arms: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.”
Have regrets. Just don’t become mired in them. I think that’s a better way to say it.