Regrets? Who Has Time for Regrets?

"If you're going to do something tonight that you'll be sorry for tomorrow morning, sleep late." --Henny YoungmanWe’re talking about regrets this week. Which means this is going to be a very short post. Because, as strange as this sounds, I have almost no regrets in my life. I mean, regrets? Who has time for regrets?

(It is physically impossible for me to write about regret without singing “My Way”: “Regrets, I’ve had a few.”)

(What? You were expecting Frank Sinatra? I would have regretted doing something so predictable.)

Long before I worked at Amazon.com and learned about Jeff Bezo’s theory of regret minimization–the idea that as an old person, we should look back on our lives and have as few regrets as possible, that in the moment we should evaluate our choices and make sure we don’t regret letting an opportunity pass–I have lived my life avoiding regret.

Brushing teeth by the Nile
Isn’t it on everyone’s bucket list to brush her teeth on the side of the Nile river on a break from the felucca while wild buffalo roam behind you?

My theory is that you can only regret what you haven’t done. My entire adult life has been about accumulating experiences. When I was unhappy in a job, I left it to take another. When I decided I want to write, I chose to go to graduate school. When I wanted to see the country I live in, I took three months to drive from Miami Beach to Seattle. When I finished graduate school, I hopped a plane to live on a kibbutz. When I left the kibbutz, I chose to trade in my Eurail pass to bum around Eastern Europe. I dated the men I wanted to date whether they were appropriate or not. I took a job at an Internet company because it sounded like a hoot. For about a decade and a half, I think I worried those around me with my lack of stability. But, damnit, I had fun!

My life right now is not boring in the least, but it’s much calmer than it had been in my late teens through early thirties. And I think it’s because I had all those experiences that I’m able to appreciate the tranquility in my life. My life has had a series of to-dos (or, in the popular parlance, bucket list items), and I’ve checked them off one by one. Travel the world. Check. Build a career. Check. Have kids. Check. Write a novel. Check. All the to-dos are things within my control (so “publishing a novel” is a dream come true, but it’s not a bucket list item because all I could do was write the best book I could; it was up to others to decide whether or not it would be published).

Do I have regrets? Sure. I regret:

  • Eating that second ice cream sandwich. Okay, that third ice cream sandwich. I’m not admitting to anything else
  • Letting my son get an Xbox. His glassy little square eyes are going to be the death of us both.
  • If I ask my daughter what I regret, she says, “Giving birth to my brother.” Interestingly enough, when I asked my son, he said, “Giving birth to my sister.”
  • Not smashing my husband’s phone after he got the Giphy keyboard. The man now has a GIF for every comment I text, and it’s making me crazy enough that his phone may end up in toilet bowl.
  • Fine! Eating that fourth ice cream sandwich! Are you people happy now?

via GIPHY

My regrets are all garden variety. Major regrets aren’t worth the time of day. Life’s both too short and too long to let anything stop you from doing it all.

And I absolutely don’t regret saying that.

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Jennifer S. Brown is the author of MODERN GIRLS (NAL/Penguin). The novel, set in 1935 in the Lower East Side of New York, is about a Russian-born Jewish mother and her American-born unmarried daughter. Each discovers that she is expecting, although the pregnancies are unplanned and unwanted, in this story about women’s roles, standards, and choices, set against the backdrop of the impending war. Learn more at www.jennifersbrown.com.

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This article has 2 Comments

  1. I sort of regret not seeing The Hateful Eight in the 70mm “road show” version. It’s always good to experience art as it’s supposed to be seen.

    Well, maybe they’ll bring it back someday. And I imagine I’ll survive if they don’t. 🙂

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