Where there is risk, there is the possibility of regret, but there is no great reward without risk.
I used to brag that I had no regrets and actively worked to live my life without regret.
I also didn’t take many risks.
I was a cautious person, afraid to make a choice for fear that it would be a mistake. I would often hold back from making large decisions until I was desperate and absolutely certain that the only viable option was not staying with my status quo.
My biggest risks were in some ways leaps of faith—things like choosing to leave the cult. I had no way to predict how they would turn out. But the risk was mitigated by my understanding that it was, in some ways, the cost of keeping my soul alive.
Spontaneity and impulsivity were foreign to me for many years.
I can no longer say that I have no regrets though. It was inevitable, really. In order to be authentic and alive, I had to eventually make mistakes.
Initially my regrets began as things that I hadn’t had the courage to pursue, and the pain of realizing I had squandered an opportunity that I could never, ever get back.
That followed by a period of what I thought was “grabbing life by the horns,” enacting the grief of lost opportunities on other (in hindsight, less appealing) opportunities. And let me tell you, I got gored by those horns! I’m still crawling out of the hole of shame, self-doubt, and pain that my impetuous never-want-to-feel-grief-again blindness brought on.
Yet both regrets have taught me something invaluable—there is pain in being too scared to take a worthwhile risk, and there is also pain in being too eager to take mediocre or bad risks. I had to learn the former before I could learn the latter.
Nowadays, I’m trying to find my passionate self again—or should I say I’m trying to develop my passionate self because I’m not entirely certain I ever had her.
My cautious self—that wounded part that is scared to repeat the mistakes of risk-taking—is painfully inhibiting. Whereas before she only had the threat of regret to hold me back, she now has the experience of regret to draw on. “Look what happened last time you were impulsive,” she pleads.
At one time, I might have thought the answer was to squelch her, but I understand that she is there to protect me. Her holding me back isn’t out of spite; it’s out of concern for everything I hold dear. She doesn’t want me to get hurt.
So I have to respect that cautious self, but I also don’t want to return to living in such a cautious way that I am reined by my fear–which means that I have to work with both caution and desire as I develop my passionate self.
I’m learning that caution and desire are not necessarily antithetical to each other. Caution adds important gifts that make passion truly sustainable–foresight, self-control, and wisdom. Without those, it’s just mania. Caution is the fire screen that contains the fire of passion.
I’ve been taking some scary risks lately, coaxing myself to try things that I’m curious about but would have probably held back from five years ago.
They’re not life-changing things, by any means, singing karaoke, trying out ecstatic dance, getting a bold new haircut. But they are things that challenge me, push me out of my comfort zone. Each felt terrifying in its own way as I approached the juncture of decision. And they give me an opportunity to practice evaluating whether a risk is worth taking.
What I’m learning is that all of me has to be present in making a decision to take a risk. The regrets have to be ones I can live with if they come true. And there needs to be a promised reward even in failure—the reward of greater freedom and pride in myself for having tried something hard.
I no longer necessarily want to live without regrets—because I realize now that would mean not truly living.
I want to learn how to dance with regret so that I can also dance with passion.
But I do want to live in a way that if I have regrets, they are chosen with my eyes wide open because the reward was promising enough to make the regret worth it.
As I build faith in myself with these smaller decisions, my cautious self will learn to trust that I will hear and honor her in larger decisions.