Why Living Without Regret is a Bad Idea

Last week I have a job interview with 7 different people, and throughout the course of the afternoon I was asked a lot of questions I was prepared to answer, and one I wasn’t. One of the section editors asked me what my biggest regret (work or non-work related) was. I’ve interviewed a lot in my career, and I’ve read many articles about how to answer interview questions, so things like “what’s your biggest weakness?” or “tell me about a time when a project you were working on failed.”  are things I’m prepared to answer.

But what do I regret? That’s so loaded, because when you talk about your weaknesses or failures you can turn them into lessons and strengths, but when you talk about regret it’s all about something you wish you could change but can’t–failure and hurt that always remains that way in your memory.

Like a lot of people I try to live my life without regret, thinking that mistakes that I’ve made in my past have led me to where I am now, made me the person I am and have been by and large learning experiences. The exception being times that my words or actions have caused hurt other people, especially those I care about. But I wasn’t about to talk about careless or hurtful words I said to my mom when I was a teenager in my job interview.

Since that question though I’ve been giving the idea of regret and my relationship with it some thought.  Like most people, I’ve always considered regret and worry useless emotions, which of course doesn’t stop me from worrying endlessly about a million things that I have little to no control over (paramount right now: my employment and upcoming wedding).

But if re-framed maybe regret isn’t so useless and maybe living without it shouldn’t be the goal. As journalist Kathryn Schulz points out in this engaging TED Talks video: “Regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly — it reminds us that we know we can do better.”

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