Mid Life Regret

Mental Emotional Cycles

For many, regrets can be compelling. The treadmill of the mind repeats and recycles whatever painful feelings and thoughts we have about life. It says: “I should have thought more about saving for retirement; I should have taken that job; I should have moved away from home; I should have listened to my father or mother; I should have changed my major; I should have gone to college, or grad school, or not gone to college. It sings in our ears over and over again. It is, in reality, too late to make any of these changes. The time for choosing has past.

We don’t know if this other option would have improved things in life now or not. All that we do know, is that we made the choices we made. Maybe you know the reason for it, and maybe you don’t. I don’t deny there can be value in learning what happened and why you reacted as you did. Sometimes this knowledge can make it easier to let go. But, ultimately, it  matters most to move on from the tyranny of this mental and emotional cycle.

Sinking In

For example, Paul, a man in his mid 30′s, became an alcoholic after college. Upon graduation, he worked as a bartender at an exclusive New York Italian Restaurant.  He had the prestige and status of working in a wonderful place and he could maintain his habit. In the short run, it looked like the perfect solution to his problem of making enough money to survive and drink. He could have gone on forever, except fate had other plans. When he was notified that his 25 year college reunion was approaching, he decided to go.  It was held at a ballroom near his small rent-controlled studio apartment in downtown Manhattan. People arrived from Long Island and even as far away as California. But when Paul walked in, he was confronted with how young everybody looked. The women and men were generally athletic and healthy looking. Then, he bumped into a guy he’d roomed with for three of his four years in college. It was sobering to discover that Jeff had become a successful real estate agent, who earned well over six figures. Jeff was all excited about his recent trip to France with his wife and kids. The comparison was too much. Paul had no wife, no children, no house. He was just paying his bills.

Paul’s mid life crisis bloomed as he sank into regret. He replayed “the waste of his life”, as he called it. He recycled his bad decisions over and over again in his mind. His daily litany became, ” I should have gotten a profession. I should have become a banker or financial planner, like my father. I should have stayed in contact with my family. I shouldn’t have moved away from Long Island.” It just made him feel hopeless and depressed. He drank even more.

Breaking Out

A year later, the owner of the restaurant, brought his daughter in to waitress. She had just gotten her degree in counseling and couldn’t help listening as he talked about his hopeless life. Eventually, she got him to an AA meeting. It was a rough internal shift, but a little over a year later he quit the restaurant and started a program to be certified as a financial planner. He still regrets his lost time. But, he’s moved on. He is starting over again

What About You ?

Are you regretting some of your important decisions? What happens when you start thinking about them? What have you learned form them?