In this blog post I talked about the fact that some of us are dogged by a sense of lingering regret over the road not taken. This sense of regret can cast a shadow over our life, making it hard to enjoy the present or feel hopeful about the future.
“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”
– Alexander Graham Bell
I also shared some preliminary steps we can take to gain perspective on regret and start to unpack it. These steps lay the groundwork for understanding our regret better. Allowing us to learn from it and move on in a more productive and fulfilling way.
Taking a deep dive into regret can be uncomfortable and painful. But examining it can truly change your life for the better, providing important insights. Here are some things you might discover when you take a hard look at your unrealized dream that will help you in the future.
Your old dream may reflect others’ priorities more than your own.
Maybe you’ve accidentally taken on the goal of a family member, mistaking it as your own. Perhaps, for example, family lore has embedded deep in your psyche the sacrifice with which your forebears built the family business. Maybe a sense of duty or guilt made you feel like you had to step up and run the business when the time came, regardless of whether you were well-suited for this work or had a passion for it yourself.
Your past dream may not align with your current priorities in life.
Sometimes our priorities change, and old dreams no longer serve the new values. When training to be a professional musician, I learned that I valued working in a supportive and positive environment more than pursuing artistic excellence at all costs. I decided to leave the often-toxic professional music world and instead used the music training I acquired to start my own music studio – the cornerstone of which is to provide a respectful environment and nurturing experience for each student.
Achieving the dream may not be worth the sacrifice.
Dreaming up a dream is one thing; understanding the sacrifices necessary to make it happen is quite another. It’s possible that you didn’t achieve your dream because you discovered the cost (in terms of money, missed opportunities, pure exhaustion, isolation or loneliness, etc.) simply wasn’t worth it.
The thing about an unrealized dream is that it stays idealized. An unmet goal can seem like the “perfect” goal unless we take the time to examine it. When we do, we may realize that the goal was more complicated than originally thought. It was flawed in ways we couldn’t see, or no longer fits who we are now. Recognizing this helps release the hold regret has on you and lays the groundwork for dealing with regret effectively.
When we have the courage to examine our unmet goals or unfulfilled dreams closely, we learn what makes us tick. We learn more about our desires, values, and temperament. We can figure out which outside influences we let in, and which we’re better off avoiding. This helps us find new dreams that are a better fit for who we are now.
Remember, it’s important to allow room for change
When you’re ready to unpack your dream, these questions might help.
- Values do you hold now that are different from those you held earlier? It can be helpful to identify the specific experiences that clarified your current priorities and made them “stick”.
- Have you learned about your own temperament that needs to be accounted for when setting a new goal?
- Circumstances or behaviors are you unwilling to put up with, no matter what?
- Outside influences deserve to be considered, and which are better ignored?
Focusing on a single dream means ignoring who you are as a whole and complex person who has had unique experiences. It’s time to harness your current knowledge and understanding and form a new dream, one that reflects your current values, self-knowledge and circumstances.
If you’ve been stuck in regret, it’s not too late to find your way to a meaningful and satisfying life – even if it’s different than the one you first imagined.
“Stay away from what might have been and look at what can be.”
– Marsha Petrie Sue