Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Regrets? Very Few.

“If you could go back and change something, or have a “do-over”, what would you change in your life?”

Do you ever get asked this question? How do you respond? Do you look back and find unhappy episodes or periods of time, seeking to uncover the root cause of the upheaval in order to change that event or decision? Whether you view your life as a whole or your present circumstances as good or happy, do you ever indulge in this flight of fancy?

When I am asked this question I typically say something along the lines of: if you could tell me that I would be right here, right now, talking to you, with the same healthy and happy marriage and family, I would have been an art history major at Williams instead of a biology major. Not too many people are too very interested in the 5 genomic point mutations between prairie grass and maize (ZZZZZZ), but I’ll bet I could have discussed the differences between Monet and Manet a couple of times at cocktail parties and such. But even at that I still don’t think I’d change a thing.

On a flight home from Denver after visiting my son “The Heir” I sat next to a very nice man, Robin. We had about a dozen “one degree of separation” contacts to chat about, but we spent most of the time talking about how we had arrived in our lives at those two seats on that plane on that day. One of us seemingly sailing along, still on the ascent on the typical professional scoreboard, and one seemingly descended and becalmed.

Robin, in full sail, offered a regret. He regretted that he did not take 3 years off following college and prior to law school to live in his favorite city, Paris. I find this line of thought coming from a successful professional amazing. Always have. I find the choice of the word and sentiment “regret” to be puzzling, though.

In the truest sense of the word one would regret an act of omission or commission that causes harm to oneself or another. One can be sad that things may not have turned out as planned, or sad that an opportunity may have been missed, or even sad about an error or mistake that was unfortunate or embarrassing but did not result in any harm.

You see, for Robin to regret his decision to go directly on to law school would be to regret all that has come to him since that time, and I believe that this is a straight shot to a lifetime of unhappiness. Had Robin gone to Paris he would not have met his wife of some 30 years, would not be the father of the particular 3 successful daughters he “introduced” me to. Indeed, Robin and I would never have found ourselves sitting together, pleasantly whiling away the hours between Denver and Cleveburg.

Some years ago the White family decided to stay in Cleveburg when offered the opportunity to leave. It turned out to be a very bad economic decision, and to be quite honest, I am very sad about that. But as those of you who have read me these last couple of years know, my wife and I had a very sick child. Because we WERE in Cleveburg “Lovely Daughter” got exactly the right treatment from exactly the right people at exactly the right time. Don’t get me wrong–I really wish the economic realities here were different. The economic outcome has been dismal, with one inconvenience piled on top of another, and no way to ever truly recover.

But I don’t regret our decision for one minute, for each day I awaken I am still the father of a daughter. There is no way to know that I would still be able to say this if we had moved, if we had made a different decision and were, then and now, thriving economically. In truth, every decision we have ever made contributes in some way to where we are and what we have become today. Going back and teeing it up again might certainly create a better address today, but then again, perhaps not. I stayed in Cleveland and the little blond fluffball who reached up her arms–“Ina huggie!”–is still here, now reaching across at eye level for Daddy hugs.

I shared this story with Robin. I suggested that his wonderfully successful life probably afforded him the opportunity to live in Paris for a bit NOW, but this time with his wife of 30 years and visited by his own “Lovely Daughters”.

Robin said he’d send me a postcard.

8 Responses to “Regrets? Very Few.”

  1. September 2nd, 2009 at 9:18 am

    anne hurst says:

    interesting thoughts…good priorities…art history huh…never would have guessed. andy has studied art history his whole life..still does…you and him should talk.

  2. September 2nd, 2009 at 9:21 am

    darrellwhite says:

    Art History or Economics, Anne. Much more interesting with more application to the rest of a life, don’t you think? The beauty of a unique building. The evolution of an artist of note. Having the ability to converse on these topics would be cool. I could always go back to school now, in my spare time…

  3. September 2nd, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    Brian Y says:

    I have had this same conversation with my wife of 12 years. Many “what ifs?” have occurred in our life.

    What if her dad got stationed at Ft. Bragg rather than Barberton, Ohio?

    What if I went to med school after college?

    Neither of those would have led to my current position or station in life.

    I agree, there are times when I have been sad about choices decisions, and occurences, but I would not regret them, because, well….I think we already know the answer!

  4. September 2nd, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Apolloswabbie says:

    I regret the things I did that hurt people. I regret not noticing how much pain my grandmother was in when I went to their house for refuge as an old teen young 20 something. I regret not having the courage to ask for help a few times when I needed it (often leading to regret number 1). I assume the only way to ‘make good’ on these things is to learn the lesson, pass it on when able, and not live the rest of my moments regretting a few from 20 years ago.

    My dearly departed martial arts instructor of 13 years used to say, “When you get to the pearly gates, there’s going to be one question: “Did you have a good time?” If you say “no”, St Peter gives you a zunty (he would demonstrate by giving someone close a zunty, the little hair flip on the back of the head that could be carefully calibrated to deliver a smack to the back of the head if needed).

    I don’t know if he’s right or wrong, but I like the attitude that theology engenders. Bingo, you do as good a job as anyone I know of making sure you can answer the question correctly.

  5. September 2nd, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Mark Lanza says:

    Certainly your point to Robin was well-placed, and I too have thought about this stuff in my life. Had I moved to Ithaca to attend grad school at Cornell, my life would be different now. Not necessarily better, but certainly different. So what? I like my present life and circumstances, and who’s to say I would be any happier if I had taken a different path? Each path provides things but it’s important to note that each path also take things away. What Robin was saying is that he regretted delaying Paris, but he still wanted everything that’s currently in his life. Can’t have the good things offered by both paths.

    There’s a long-standing saying (tenet, adage, etc) I’ve used with people over the years: “Opportunities always look larger when they’re walking away.” This seems to be true for just about anyone for a myriad of things, some of which we may find silly. As a kid I recall my dad telling me that the hardest thing sbout turning 35 was the realization he could not go into military service. It wasn’t that he wanted to, but the opportunity was no longer there. What? I remember being uber-puzzled by this…still am, actually.

    ANYWAY, good to see the ‘Random Thoughts,” doc. I look forward to reading them — thanks much.


  6. September 3rd, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    Ann Sheehan Kashmanian says:

    Hi Darrell,
    Maureen sent me your link. I did enjoy the thoughts. I was an Art History major and then went on to get my MBA and CPA. See your Mom every so often at Kirkbrae. Best regards.

  7. September 3rd, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    darrellwhite says:

    Ann, nice to hear from you! I’m sure you agree, Manet is more interesting than Maize!

Leave a Reply