For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, “It might have been.” – John Greenleaf Whittier
What does that mean?
This quote is about regret and sadness. It is about what might have been, if only action had been taken. It comes from the poem “Maud Muller,” which is about a young and beautiful girl who meets a wealthy judge from the local town. Both are attracted to the other, but neither says anything. They each go on with their lives, wondering what might have been.
A longer section of the poem ends like this (lines 101-106) :
Alas for maiden, alas for Judge,
For rich repiner and household drudge!
God pity them both! and pity us all,
Who vainly the dreams of youth recall;
For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: “It might have been!”
This is, unfortunately, something that nearly all of us will have in common, if not already, eventually. How many times has someone you wanted to meet slipped away while you were busy trying to find the best words to use when introducing yourself?
And that’s just the topic of the quote. What other areas in your life have the words “it might have been” hanging over the memory of something you did or failed to do? Yes there is a price to pay for trying and failing. But I believe the price of not trying is often much higher.
Why is living without regret important?
How much of your life do you want to dedicate to the reliving of unpleasant memories? How much time do you want to invest in things you cannot change? How much emotional pain are you willing to put yourself through in order to relive these past situations and second guess yourself?
Personally, I try to spend enough time reviewing the situation to learn something from it, and then I try to put in a box labeled “lessons learned.” I may go back to it if I come across a similar situation later in life, but I try not to rummage through the box. Ever. That’s a massive time sink and emotional drain.
How much nicer would life be if you could set your past regrets aside, and move forward with your life, taking action when opportunities come your way? That’s what I try to do, and (after a few years of practice) have become fairly good at it. I believe it’s worth a try, wouldn’t you agree?
Where can I apply this in my life?
From my experience, there seem to be two major components to living with few regrets (I can’t imagine living with absolutely none, can you?). The first step is to take prompt action. The second is to accept the outcome of your action (or inaction) and move on with your life.
The first, to me, is key. If you don’t take prompt action, the opportunity often slips away. And the crucial part of being ready to take action is to be prepared. Preparation and confidence can also be bolstered by practice and by learning from your mistakes.
Where in your life do you most often have regrets of not having taken action? Be careful about 20/20 hindsight. Don’t say something about playing lottery numbers or stocks based on knowledge you couldn’t possibly have had in advance. But do you have regrets frequently when you meet people? That’s my biggest source of regret.
What about your agonizing afterwards? Do you berate yourself or are you full of self-recrimination? What is your attitude towards yourself? Do you say “I should learn something from that,” or do you call yourself names, list all your faults and otherwise run yourself down?
In the long run, which path leads you forward, and which leaves you so afraid that you freeze up when an opportunity presents itself? If you’re like me or most people I know, the latter is the more frequent response. But that’s not the best way to move forward, is it? Forgive yourself and move on.
So how do we focus more on what we can learn, rather than calling ourselves names? The first thing I try to do is to take the emotion down a notch or two. I find that my periods of pity and self-flagellation tend to be when I am most emotional. Once I tone that down, I can be a little more reasonable.
And that’s when I can start being logical and analytical about what happened or failed to happen. I ask myself “At what point did I mess up?” How could I have pulled things together and better prepared myself for the opportunity? What should I have said, what should I have done?
The point isn’t to beat myself up for being such a dunce, but to learn something from the experience. That way, it isn’t a failure, it isn’t a complete loss or a complete waste of time. It isn’t as good a teacher as actually having tried something, but at least I’m a step closer next time, right?
So, what will you do the next time opportunity knocks? Will you freeze and wonder what might have been, or will you take a shot? Even if you mangle it badly, it’s better than nothing, right? You’ve got a real data point, not just a guess.
You’ll learn more from a failure than from guessing what might have been.
From: Twitter, @QuotableQuips
confirmed at : http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/johngreenl385048.html
Photo by DeCyner