Readers of this blog will know that I tend to fuse writing about mountains and my love of the outdoors with my own homespun take on life here, and I wanted to write because I saw this article about regrets and it got me thinking.
So I know the last year or so has been a bit rough and it’s definitely tested me, but in general, if I look at everything now overall in my life, I don’t have any regrets, and I don’t think that that is accidental. Reading the comments at the bottom of this article about regrets, it’s clear that a great many people allow their fear to constrain them, to conquer them, to push that part of their soul that wants to take a risk for happiness down and settle for ‘OK’ or ‘good enough’; and so they end up living with deep regret years down the line.
Over the years, like everyone I suppose, I’ve had plenty of knocks to my confidence and plenty of powerful influences telling me I ought to fear and never push myself out of my comfort zone and so to live conventionally, but I’m a great believer that fear only exists to be mastered, to be conquered, to be subdued. Bear in mind as you read on, that when I was born, the odds were heavily set against me living twenty four hours, let alone thirty one years, and the apparently all-knowing voice of convention had also said that odds were I wouldn’t have had much ‘quality of life’ if I survived, either. You can probably guess what I think about the voice of convention!
Years ago I joined an outdoors club at university and, through a happy accident of circumstance, got elected to the Committee. I was terrified, knew nothing about what I was doing and was thoroughly convinced I’d fail. Before this, I’d applied for a course at university that had ‘no practical application’ in the ‘real world’; the voice of convention (in this case my first boss) said I ought to do something like plumbing, where I’d earn 30 grand a year after qualifying.
Every time I took groups out onto the hill, I had to confront my deep, almost, at that time, pathological self-doubt, and master my fear of failure. And each time I did, I grew a little in confidence. I never, ever lost that drive to confront the potential for total disaster and personal failure, and try anyway. Pushing back against the self-doubt was empowering, and that empowerment was intoxicating. I started looking at my limits, questioning them; limits I realised that I had largely told myself I had. I gained two degrees and a postgraduate diploma, including a first class honours at bachelors, and a job and career in my field of ‘no practical application’.
I’m not for a moment going to pretend any of it was easy, but it’s important to relate it because I know from direct experience that a life lived without regrets is possible, but like everything in life it doesn’t come for free. It comes from a constant exercise in confronting your fears, evaluating what it really is that makes you happy, and then setting your face like flint against all opposition until you eventually achive your goal, or fail. Failure is the other side of it of course. You can’t simply set your heart on things and expect to achieve them every time, even if you do everything right; that isn’t life. It’s also sadly true that a lot of people will want you to fail, not out of any particular sense of spite, but because if you succeed in doing what the voice of convention has told you (and them) shouldn’t be tried, your success threatens their complacency, and casts doubt on the wisdom of their decision never to rock the boat and challenge their own limits. So be prepared for that, too. But what strikes me about most of the people writing about their regrets below that article is that the vast majority imprisoned themselves from acting because of a fear of failure.
Let me re-iterate this again because it’s been a vital life lesson for me down the years and it’s something people sometimes learn too late. You can sometimes do everything completely right and still fail. That’s life. In other words, failure is as much a part of life as success; it will happen to you at some point.
Therefore the key to learning to live life without regrets is to master your fear of failure. Failure itself is not something to either fear, or be ashamed of. If you allow fear of it to govern your life, you will never achieve your full potential, and you will almost certainly have things later in life that, when you look back upon them, you regret not attempting.
So, years ago, I decided to do medieval history. Years after that, I decided to try and make a career in my field, despite the odds being against success. I decided that I really wanted to be in Wales; the odds were against that too. I’ve given good friends unpopular advice because it mattered to say what I actually thought, not what I thought they wanted me to tell them. I’ve charged in without the baldiest idea what women have thought of me but always asked anyway, if I felt something. Naturally I’ve been shot down more than a few times but I’ve also had life-defining and enriching relationships that have made me the person I am. I’ve confronted the myth of my own incapability for years, and achieved. I’ve stood up for what I believed was right, even when I knew I might be doing so alone and at a large personal cost, in every area of my life. These experiences have not been without cost, and occasionally they have been exquisitely painful.
But the one thing I can say hand on heart is that I don’t have any regrets. I’ve always taken that chance for happiness, success, or to do what’s right, and whether I’ve always succeeded or not, I do have a peace of mind that I know, from reading the above article, many people lack. The payoff for all the times I’ve failed is that I don’t need to regret anything. I don’t have to look myself in the eye in the mirror in the morning and say ‘what if?’ because I’ve made it a habit in life to confront my fear of failure and have a go anyway. And the peace of mind that gives is a reward worth far, far more than the temporary sting of failure when things didn’t work out, and by challenging myself I’ve had incredible experiences I would otherwise have shied away from.
So if you take anything from this article and this post, please take this. Following your heart isn’t some Disney cliché; you were given your instincts for a reason. Fear is there to be mastered; it has its place but never let it master you. Living life without regrets means mastering fear and being prepared to pay the price for things not working out. But I believe, in the end, it’s a small price to pay for the peace of heart, mind and soul that comes from knowing you don’t have to ask yourself ‘what if?’.
By the way. The voice of convention says that the odds are very firmly stacked against me ever becoming a successful writer. The voice of convention can take a running jump!