A Funny Little Thing Called Regret

Sometimes in life, you find something that inspires you and causes you to pursue it with wild abandon as a driving direction in your life.  Not just a passing whim that somehow catches your attention, but something that alights like fire in your heart.  Now THOSE are moments I think everyone seeks out and they are difficult to find.  Obviously.

For quite some time, I had something like that.  When I was in high school (maybe around my junior year), I began participating on the mock trial team and I completely caught the bug of wanting to be a lawyer.  My focus on this became almost single-minded, especially when I got to college.  I worked my tail off for 4 years because higher grades meant opportunities for better law schools.  Heck, I skipped a single class in college… and… umm… that was to study for a different class.  Not exactly “Rebel Without A Cause” kind of defiance in any way, shape or form.

I then got to law school and sought to apply myself with a great deal of rigor there as well.  Now, let me be clear on something… law school is hard.  I don’t care which school it is, if you went through or are going through that special kind of Hell, I tip my hat to you.  It’s an experience that’s difficult to describe to those who have not gone through it.  Suffice it to say, no one really enjoys law school… except for a few people.  And they scared me.

I got out of law school… got myself a nice shiny associate job with a law firm… and quickly realized, the life of a lawyer really wasn’t for me.  At all.

That’s quite an epiphany to experience at age 25 when you’ve spent the last 9 or so years (more than 1/3 of my life at that point) going full-bore at becoming an attorney.  I can’t lie – it rattled me.  How could it not?  I mean… what in the world would I do now?

But the funny thing about all of it… at the moment of clarity I had those close to 15 years ago (holy crap… 15 years?!?!?!?) through all the years that followed thereafter… I never regretted my decision to pursue being an attorney.  Really.

Is it because I’ve mastered some secret Zen technique that allows me to redirect all of life’s disappointments in a form of mental aikido?  Not really.  In fact, I  wouldn’t even say I am all that special in this regard.

It just came down to 2 important facts I’ve always believed in my heart of hearts:

1) Everything that has happened before in my life has brought me to where I am today and caused me to be who I am today.  And I like who I am… so why would I regret that?

2) I have absolutely zero ability to change or affect any event that has happened in the past… so what good is beating myself up over it endlessly?  Should I learn from it?  Hell yes, but beyond the learning and seeking to do better going forward, there is nothing to be gained in dwelling on missed opportunities or decisions that went an unexpectedly negative way.

I think the other major gripe I have with regret is often works from an assumption that whatever was “missed” before can never be obtained again.  I don’t buy that for a second.  Yes, if you always had a crush on Mary-Jo Hooper, never asked her out and she is now happily married with 3 kids, that ship has sailed my delinquent Romeo.

But many other things?  They aren’t necessarily closed off… it just depends on how bad you want it.  People go back to school and change careers and start new businesses.  New habits are formed and old ones broken.  The fact you are now 40 as opposed to 20 should not mean all is lost IF (and this is a critically big if) whatever you missed before has remained hugely important to you since.

Just don’t be the guy or gal who is always looking back to the days gone by and chances that appear to be nothing but cloudy memories.  Be proud of who you are now and what you have… and if you aren’t?  What’s really stopping you from making yourself anew?

Unconditional Confidence

One of the things I love most about reading is there’s always a chance I will have an epiphany or maybe even a more run-of-the-mill moment of clarity. It’s part of the adventure of reading a book, magazine, blog,cereal box or one of those uber-cool ancient scrolls from ages long past. Not that I stumble across many scrolls… or any. Point still stands.

One of my current reads is the book "Zen Golf" by Dr. Joseph Parent.  Dr. Parent is a PGA instructor who is also a Ph.D.in psychology and a student of Buddhism to boot. That’s a pretty full resume for anyone you can name.  The book, as its title so aptly suggests, is about using the fundamental teachings of Shambhala warriorship (a spiritual companion to Buddhism) to become a better golfer and also improve your own life in the process.

Zen Golf

I’m digging this book. No, seriously…

One section in particular has piqued my interest – it’s entitled "unconditional confidence"… and yes, it is in all lower-case ’cause that’s how those who are one with the Zen roll. Or e.e. cummings. Either, or.  Anyhoo, Dr. Parent writes:

Unconditional confidence arises from connecting with our basic goodness.  We believe in ourselves as decent people and in our golfing skills for our level of play.  This doesn’t mean we expect to hit every shot perfectly.  It does mean we can handle whatever the result is.  With unconditional confidence, our self-worth as a human being doesn’t depend on how well or poorly we strike a golf ball.  We see our nature and our abilities as basically good and the difficulties we encounter as temporary experiences.

As soon as I read that, I couldn’t help but expand it well beyond the boundaries of the game of golf.  How can you not expand it? It’s so apparent to hundreds of activities we undertake each day.

It’s all-too-often the case if we doing something wrong, mess something up, miss our exit on the highway, or hit a truly poor golf shoot, it becomes so much more than just a moment of error that should slide gently by without much thought.  Instead, we often lapse into something like “Oh my God… I’m such a moron… how could I be so freaking STUPID?!?!?”  We go beyond it being a simple event and it instead becomes a referendum on our worth as a person.

What’s so troubling about this is how easily it happens.  Right there… blink of an eye… BOOM!  Event happens and our instantaneous reaction (or at least mine, more often than I care to think about sometimes) is to judge ourselves on a far more serious and permanent basis than could possibly be merited.

This is, of course, utterly ridiculous and Dr. Parent nails it.  If we molded ourselves more into the form of a person exercising unconditional confidence, we recognize that we are good at our core, momentary errors are just that and we always can move beyond them to a better state.  Notice that unconditional confidence DOES NOT equal irrational confidence.  The former is how you bounce back because you believe in yourself… the latter is an artificial construct where we are only looking to kid ourselves into belief.  That’s sort of like the prizefighter who talks a gigantic amount prior to a huge fight to psyche himself into belief.  I think that’s a fool’s errand, at best.

So perhaps we can all take a lesson from a book on golf to be a little bit more about life.  We are good at our base core and the less we become clouded with temporary passing moments and believe in a larger sense of our intrinsic value as a person, the better we will be… and we might even end up as better golfers in the process.  Or so I am hoping for me.

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