This post is probably going to divide opinion. Some will find what I’m about to say shocking, some will criticise me for being so negative, some will tell me to grow up, but for some I might just strike a chord of recognition. Whichever way you lean, please take a deep look at your life and ask yourself honestly, is there anything that you would change if you could? And if you would, have you ever regretted that you didn’t get it right first time; has it ever crossed your mind what your life would have looked like if you had?
I am coming to the half way point in my resettlement from the Army and I’m starting to question everything: am I making the right choice; am I doing the right thing; what if it all goes wrong; am I going to regret this? It was at this point that everything I’ve ever regretted in my life and everything I see that is wrong in my life flew across my mind. If only I had done this; what if that was different; I wish I’d done that. I am a firm believer that a mistake is an error you make twice, as long as you learn from the first incident and never do it again it cannot be classed as a mistake. It is simply a learning experience that has developed you into a better person. I think it was Oscar Wilde who said (and I apologise if this isn’t an exact quote) “There are no such things in life as mistakes, merely experiences from which to learn.” In fact you don’t have to try too hard to do a google search and find an endless array of motivational quotes encouraging you not to dwell on your perceived failures and never, ever have regrets.
But is that really possible? Surely there is a scale of regret that ranges from a minor insignificant grumbling such as not eating that last chocolate bar because you feel a bit bloated, to utter dismay at committing something more significant like not putting your lottery numbers on the week they come up, or worse still, saying something horrible to a friend or relative then finding out they have died before you could take back what you said. No matter how quickly you brush these off, surely they are all regrets regardless of whether you dwell on them or not?
For me, these are the things that play on my mind and are the most difficult for me to brush off and forget about. They fade in and out depending on circumstance, but deep down I know they are there and the question ‘what if’ remains:
- I wish I had tried harder at school. Every job that I would like to apply for, with the salary that I need, requires a degree or equivalent. I am at the stage in my career where I have naturally accrued qualifications, but I still fall short of the degree equivalent status. Why don’t you just go out and get your degree then? I can hear you say, apply yourself and try and you’ll get it. This, for me, is easier said than done. I am useless at self study, the way I learn is by having a tutor/teacher stood in front of me telling me, then showing me, how and why 2 plus 2 equals 4. For this reason distance learning is a waste of money, plus I barely see my family as it is, so to spend an extra 2 hours a night focussing on education rather than my wife and kids would probably result in me losing both. If only I had tried harder, dedicated myself more I would be sat here with a whole plethora of job vacancies opening up because I could tick that box.
- I wish I had decided what I wanted to do earlier. I know there are a large number of people who have no idea what they want to do, but I wish I had followed suit with my school friends who pretty much all knew what they wanted to be by the time they were choosing their GCSEs. One absolutely knew he wanted to own a timber yard and guess what, he does and is really quite successful. One always wanted to be an economist and guess what, he is and is flying quite high in the City. One even more bizarrely, after a fight he had with another school friend, decided he wanted to fight for a living and guess what, he is now a professional MMA fighter. In America there is a lot more pressure on people to get the education to suit their career, whereas in the UK it seems that we get a generic education to prove we can study at a certain level and are then released into the jungle of life to decide what career path to follow. My issue is that I know exactly what I would like to be, but the cost and time it would take to retrain is immense and I can’t afford to do either because I have a wife and two kids to support. I wish I had decided what I wanted to be while I was in school so right now I could be in a position to step onto that career path without a break, or even better, be already fully established in it.
- I wish I hadn’t left the Army first time around. This is a controversial one for me, because 6 years into my military career I decided to leave because I thought I knew better, I didn’t. The only good thing that came out of me leaving the Army was meeting my wife and here lies the conundrum. I wish I hadn’t left the Army, but I still want to have met my wife, but I can’t have both. Hypothetically speaking, if I had a time machine and could go back in time and stop myself leaving, I wouldn’t do it, because I may still have the memories of knowing and loving my wife and couldn’t risk living with the pain of never being with her again. If there was a guarantee that by making the decision not to leave, it would completely erase all memory of my current life, would I? The honest answer is, I don’t know. That decision to throw myself off the ledge would be incredibly difficult, but could I do it, I really don’t know. The reason this one crops up so often, right now, is because I am so fearful that I am making the same mistake twice. As I said before, it only becomes a mistake if you make it twice. I am leaving for completely different reasons this time, more valid, more responsible, more grown up but that doesn’t mean it is the right decision and this fear is crippling me. As my Grandfather-in-Law says so eloquently, “You’re a mug for leaving.” and part of me believes him.
- I wish we hadn’t conceived our son. Right now you have probably taken a massive intake of breath, or spluttered whatever it was you were eating/drinking and you may even have had to read that again, but it is true. Part of me really wishes that we hadn’t had our son. It would have to have the same caveats as leaving the Army though. I love my son and am so grateful that he was conceived and born and he really does complete our family…but. The majority of our issues, stresses and problems, both in life and between us as a married couple stem from our issues with him and it breaks my heart that I resent him for it. I remember a time when it was just the three of us and it was quite simply idyllic. Trust me when I say that this isn’t looking through rose tinted glasses, our daughter was a breeze to raise, whereas our son is a real handful. We struggle to find the right way to handle his tantrums, we struggle to deal with him not doing what we tell him and we struggle with the impact he has on our life as he is completely dependant on us. The downside to this, is that my job requires to be placed first in my list of priorities all the time. The family is allowed to come a close second but no higher. This ultimately means that I am leaving my wife to juggle the stresses alone and it makes me feel utterly helpless. My natural instinct is to solve problems, fix things, make everything better, and I can’t. What little I am doing is generally from a distance and I know my wife resents me for it. This makes me feel impotent and useless. My biggest issue though, is the impact it is having on my relationship with my daughter. Because I am spending so much of my time and effort on him, it leaves very little left for her and I deeply regret it. There is a constant competition for my attention, be it between my kids or between them and my wife and trying to juggle finding the perfect balance of focus between them is tiring and it makes me feel like I am rationing myself. I am trying to resolve this, but again it’s a struggle and on occasion I really do think life would have been better had he not been born, in fact I know life would have been better had he not been born. But what I can’t bear is being without him. I really do love him, so so much and when his face lights up as I arrive home it makes me feel special beyond compare. It makes all the stress and angst disappear, and more importantly worth it. But these moments are fleeting, and as the saying goes in good times as well as bad, “this too shall pass”. I would need to have a guarantee that by changing the past I had absolutely no memory of what had been, but if someone presented me with the time machine that could achieve this would I take that opportunity…I genuinely don’t know, what’s worse is I don’t know how to feel about feeling these things.
- I wish I hadn’t been so frivolous with money in the past. I have had to deal with debt problems in the past and it has been a lesson hard learned to be responsible with money, but I regret not having learnt this lesson earlier. My parents were a great example of how not to handle money and I should have learnt all I needed to know from doing the opposite of what they did, but I didn’t. Where my colleagues were buying property and developing their portfolios, or packing away savings, I was going on 5 star holidays and living a champagne lifestyle on mainly borrowed money. It means that at 33, I am just starting my saving and my financial responsibilities and for me it’s too late to achieve what I would like for later life and I have no one to blame but myself. I wish I had lived a boring life and been more sensible, so leaving the Army wouldn’t be so scary because the risk of financial loss wouldn’t be so daunting.
Whilst I admit that these are pretty shallow and selfish regrets, they are ones that concern me and they cast a shadow over every decision that I have made, or am about to make. They make me question everything I am doing and kind of trap me in a cage of insecurity and doubt. It is a cage that I am struggling to break free from. The bottom line though, is that you make your own destiny, and if I don’t want to make these mistakes again it is down to me to prevent them from happening. It is me, with the support of my family, that has to put the hard work in to ensure that I avoid the pitfalls and recognise the indicators and warnings of them happening again and proactively do something to stop them.
Is there anything that you regret, or are you a believer in forgetting the past and moving on. If you believe the latter, how do you do it, because I could really use your help!