Monday, October 19, 2015


Michael Salsbury
If money could be made from feeling regret, I would make Donald Trump and Warren Buffett look like paupers.  I've done so many things in life that I look back on and regret.  Some of the regrets are small, like wishing I'd never watched Napoleon Dynamite.  Some are a bit bigger, like wishing I'd not said something that cost me a friendship, or not let my anger get the better of me in some situation or another.  A few of the regrets are pretty big.

I regret not spending more time with my grandfather before he died in 2004.  There is so much I would like to have learned about him, his time in World War II, and his outlook on life.  He was a kind, gentle soul with a huge heart and a great sense of humor.  My life has not been the same since I lost him, and I know it never will be again.

I regret not having spent more time with my mother before cancer took her from us in 2008.  I know these are poor excuses, but I really believed that somehow she was going to beat it, even as I could hear her losing the fight and giving up.  There is much I would like to have learned from her, much I would have said to her.  Life isn't the same without her, either.

I've lost or damaged many friendships that meant a lot to me.  I upset one of my best friends from college, who offered me a room in his home during one of my points of deep depression.  He's never spoken to me since.  I was an emotional wreck at the time, and I think I promised to stay with them and (when the emotions passed) didn't go - and forgot that I'd made the promise.  They made room in their home for me, and I didn't show.  I'm sure it felt like an insult or an affront, and I don't blame them for their anger.  But he was a good friend, and a good person, and I hate damaging that friendship.

On a previous job, there was a co-worker for whom I had great respect.  She was smart, witty, and stood up for herself in ways that I still have trouble doing.  She had good business sense, too.  There was so much I hoped to learn from her.  Somehow, I destroyed that with a sticky note. I wanted to let our CEO know that the document I was giving him was one that she'd not had a chance to review, and that she should not he held accountable if it contained mistakes she would have caught and fixed.  In my haste to get the work done, I used a short-hand phrasing that said she was "passed in the review process" by which I meant she had not seen the document.  This sticky note became part of a photocopy sent to most of the company.  She (and probably some others) took this to mean that I said she intentionally passed on the opportunity to review it, which made her look disinterested or in some way "above" reviewing it, which was not my intention.  Despite the fact that I literally visited every person in the company and explained that my note had apparently been misinterpreted, and went to her to apologize, the damage had been done.  She never really spoke to me or trusted me again.  I regret not having taken an extra minute to write that she "had not had a chance to review this" or something to that effect.  A statement meant to protect someone I respected instead wounded her to a degree that she never forgave me for.

I could go on, but I won't.  The point is, regret is an emotion I have difficulty releasing.  I think it's because I am a perfectionist at heart and don't like making mistakes.  I especially don't like making mistakes that hurt or anger those I care about, or mistakes that can't be fixed in some way.

Sylvester Stallone is quoted as saying:
I have tons of regrets, but I think that's one of the reasons that push people to create things. Out of their angst, their regret, comes the best from artists, painters and writers. 
Gradually, I'm coming to realize that there is no value in regret except as a reminder that we must do things differently in the future.  I can't turn back the clock and undo what's been done, or spend time with those I've lost - no matter how much I wish I could.  All that I can do, or that any of us can do, is use the regret as a reminder to handle the situation differently next time - and try to let it go.  Perhaps, as Stallone suggests, I can let it inform my work too.

About the Author

Michael Salsbury / Author & Editor

In his day job, Michael Salsbury helps administer over 1,800 Windows desktop computers for a Central Ohio non-profit. When he's not working, he's writing, blogging, podcasting, home brewing, or playing "warm furniture" to his two Bengal cats.


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