We all have regret. We said the wrong thing at the wrong time. We hurt a friend. We missed an opportunity. There are things in our past we would erase, if we could.
There is only one thing you can do with that regret—bury it.
Photo Credit Bhowmik Shah (Creative Commons)
This week I wrote about living a life without regret. Truth is, we can’t make it from birth to death without doing, saying, choosing something regrettable. So what do we do with our collection of regret? Bury it. But where?
You can bury it deep inside
Many of us choose to bury our regret deep down inside of ourselves. We dig a hole and hide the padlocked box somewhere in the recesses of our heart and try to move on. Sometimes we medicate. Sometimes we distract ourselves. Sometimes we hope time will heal all wounds.
This works for a while.
Our minds are capable of operating in some seriously stressful situations. Our memory is selective. We suppress and move on. Then, one day, regret creeps up from the crypt like a putrid smell from the sewer. We stagger from the odor. We say, “I thought I’d dealt with that!” And then, we often make other regrettable choices in an attempt to re-bury our past.
Some of us, afraid to bury regret inside of ourselves, find a way to bury it in others. This is called blame. We anchor our regret in the faulty choice, action, attitude of another. We place the burden on them so we won’t have to carry it ourselves.
But we can’t escape regret so easily.
Regret blamed on othersbecomes anger. And angry people are not free.
In our attempt to free ourselves of regret we poison our relationships and strengthen regret’s power. We nurture regret through anger. It takes root in our hearts. It becomes our master. It blinds us to reality.
Blame spreads like a virus. Anger multiplies when nurtured. Regret gives birth to more regret. Repeat cycle.
So if we cannot bury our regret in ourselves or in others, how can we get rid of it?
You can bury it forever
I’ve found a place to bury my regret where it won’t poison the soil of my soul. I can bury it without blame or anger. I can bury it and move on.
I bury my regret in a 2,000 year old tomb in Palestine.
Tombs hold death. But this grave erupted with life.
Tombs represent the end. But this grave was a new beginning.
Tombs project sadness. But this grave brought joy to people around the world.
I have my share of regret. But I know what to do with it.
I give my regret to the One who died on that Good Friday hill, who was buried behind the stone, and who came back to life on Easter morning. I bury my regret with him. He exchanges it for life.
Even though I’ve never seen an episode of How I Met Your Mother, it’s Facebook-overwhelming final episode affected me. A friend and co-worker, Matt, was upset the day after watching the series finale. After a brief summary of the show and explanation of its conclusion, I was upset too.
Because HIMYM sticks its finger into one of our deepest wounds—this lingering question “Is real change possible?”
The following is from my friend Matt Henning. [SPOILER ALERT]
It’s been a few weeks now and if you’re like me, you went on with life by just forgetting that HIMYM ever existed. Even if you liked the ending, you’ve already forgotten the show. That is the one thing all people agree upon with the ending of HIMYM.
It was forgettable.
Yes—the Slap Bet, Robin Sparkles, Billy Zabka, The Goat, The Locket, Dopplegangers, all forgettable.
HIMYM isn’t Seinfeld where something simple taken too far becomes funny.
HIMYM isn’t Reality TV where boundaries are pushed to cover our boredom.
HIMYM is about one thing: whatever is witty, whatever is clever, whatever you never knew you wanted, they write about those things! Oh, that was cheesy 10 years ago? We’ll make that awesome. Challenge… Accepted!
Yet, it is forgotten now. Some people probably don’t even know why. Here’s why it was forgettable for me.
What do people remember?
Robin Sparkles? That was an amazing episode allowed us to experience Ted’s pain, laugh with Barney, and feel confused about how they were supposed to feel for Robin. But it was also a tale of Robin’s past and present. That’s why we love hearing stories (both the good and the bad) from our friend’s past. We love hearing about change.
We remember change.
Here is what I wish the writers would have considered: People really do change.
The shock and awe of clever writing showed us the progression of peoples’ lives and we loved HIMYM for it. However, the last episode ended with a different kind of shock and awe. Much like Lady Gaga and her eccentric outfits , the writers of HIMYM took the story outside the lines. It was a train-wreck. They spent nine seasons on character development, then erased it all in one episode. We discovered the characters had not actually developed at all. They revert back to their maturity level in the first episode. And the ending is just a life-restart at age 40 for Ted?
Denying that people change leads to fatalism, fatalism leads to lack of hope, and if we lack hope we become depressed.
In life, it’s true that people get divorced, people die, people move on, people don’t keep the same friendships… but people do change.
Everything changed in the show except the people. Ted didn’t change. Robin was still a self-focused reporter just older and more distant, looking for the next thing that will make her happy. Ted tried once, twice, no three times at a relationship with her. But this time she will be happy? Lily and Marshall still care about friends and will try to throw reunions in the midst of mid-life crises, and “just take me back to college” moments for the rest of their lives. Barney isn’t just a womanizer, he is even more careless about friends than before. You think he will honor this commitment to a kid whose Mother he labels, “woman 31”?
In the end, the message of HIMYM is fatalistic. Change doesn’t last.
We all know people who go through life buying this message.
They believe they will be jobless forever.
They believe they can’t change their intelligence, their maturity, their situation, or their behavior.
They believe they can’t stop spending money, giving in to addiction, or returning to life-deadening vices.
They believe they will never find what is true or what is right.
This is hopelessness defined. How will they change if they believe true change is not possible?
I am not buying the message. People can change. It is rooted in my belief and my experience. This steers what I believe and how I live my life.
[This is the first post in a new series, Plan2Change, about the possibility and process of personal growth.]
Regret is one of the most powerful human emotions—it tightens your gut, drops your shoulders, darkens your eyes, and fogs your mind. As poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote, “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: ‘It might have been.’ “
Photo credit Cesar Astudillo (Creative Commons)
Men in their 40s often experience the power of regret. Looking back over the previous 20 years, they regret choices made in the name of business success—relationships lost, character compromised, paths chosen. We call it a mid-life crisis. Sports car dealers call it a business opportunity. The world is full of middle-age men trying to cover regret with new clothes and fast cars.
At least these men can make changes to their lives. There is another group for whom it is too late.
I sometimes think about the end of my life.
I am lying in the hospital connected to machines. The doctor tells my family there is nothing more he can do. My children and grandchildren gather around to comfort me. Their presence warms my soul.
I think back through my life, frames flickering before my mind’s eye. I should have . . . I wish I would have . . . I feel regret.
When I end the thought experiment, I take note. What regrets did I have? What should I have done? What should I have avoided? Then I celebrate the fact I am still alive. I jump and sing like Scrooge at the end of A Christmas Story. Then I make changes to ensure I won’t have those regrets one day.
Because one day my life will be over. Friends and family will travel from around the country to attend my funeral. Some people will cry. Some will laugh (hopefully while sharing funny stories from my life). Some will stand up and share about me.
What will they say about me at my funeral?
I know they won’t mention the things that occupy much of my time day to day.
“Josh could really fill out a form well.”
“Josh was so good at checking his email and staying up to date on Facebook.”
I hope they will speak about meaningful conversations, shared experiences, and life-changing interactions.
What do you want people to say about you at your funeral? Take 2 minutes and write out what comes to mind. [Then, if you're willing, share it in the comments below]
When I’m dead, it’s too late to determine the words spoken at my funeral. Those decisions take place today.
I want to live such a life that one day people will say, “He loved his family. He lived for God. He gave his life for the good of those around him.” That would make me happy.
In a few years, when I turn 40, I won’t buy a fast car or start dressing like a teenager. Hopefully, I will avoid a mid-life crisis altogether. Not because life is going exactly how I planned, but because I am heading in the right direction. Instead of a mid-life crisis, I will have a mid-life check-in.
Am I living a life that leads to regret or rejoicing?
Am I becoming who I want to be?
Will the path I am walking take me where I want to go?
I am a writer. And like almost all other writers, I take great joy when my words encourage and influence others. In order to do that in today’s world, I need one thing—a tribe. You need one too, if you are a writer.
The good news is if you want to build a tribe, there is help. You can buy books, sign up for online courses, join communities. There are plenty of resources online.
However, for many authors, there is an internal struggle. Sometimes building a tribe feels like selling your soul.
Photo by Neal Sanche (Creative Commons)
Building a tribe without losing your soul is not simply about what you do, but how you think about what you do. Here are four areas to check whenever your tribe building starts to feel like your a traveling salesman hawking snake oil.
How you think about Time
Most Tribe Building courses or books advertise like this:
“Five steps to building a 10,000 person email list in 6 months!”
“How I build my blog from scratch to 100,000 unique monthly visitors in less than a year!”
While this is a good recruitment strategy, it can put a wrong picture in your mind of tribe-building. You think, “If I follow the steps, everything will be easy.” Well, building a tribe is not easy. So you follow the steps and don’t see results, and are left believing you did something wrong.
The truth is most people don’t succeed on their first attempt at building a tribe. Others stumble upon it more by circumstance than plan.
This is not to say you can’t build a significant tribe. It just might take longer than you think.
Time is very flexible. It bends with our expectations. If you expect to uncover 100,000 subscribers
in a year, you will be disappointed after 18 months if you only have 100.
Perhaps it is better if you hold time more loosely.
Seth Godin has been blogging for almost 20 years.
Derek Halpern build a blog quickly because he had already done it before.
Jeff Goins didn’t succeed until his seventh blog.
Michael Hyatt was already a successful CEO and New York Times bestseller before he started.
It is fine to make audacious goals. I have mine. But don’t feel like a failure if it takes longer than advertised. Building a tribe is not easy. Wouldn’t you rather slowly build something that will last than to quickly construct a tribe held together by duct tape?
How you think about Tribe Members
Let me just say this up front, “your” tribe is not yours. The people in it are individuals who probably belong to a myriad of other groups. They loan you their time and attention as long as it is beneficial to them. You don’t own them.
As you are building a tribe, it can feel like you are asking a few thousand people to marry you. Then, when they sign up you have huge expectations—they will read everything you publish, they will be loyal until death, they will tell their friends about you.
Then you get the notification. You know what I am talking about, the unsubscribe notice. It feels like a divorce. You go through the cycles of grief—
Denial. They must have unsubscribed on accident.
Anger. How could they leave me?
Remorse. Maybe it was my fault?
Depression. Will I ever find someone else?
Acceptance. We weren’t a match.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. They are not “your” subscribers in the first place. Let them go.
I did something crazy last year, I gave everyone on my email list three reasons to unsubscribe. I told them they could leave the list if they wanted and I wouldn’t have any hard feelings. Afterwards, I knew those who remained really wanted to be there.
Ideally, we can have a mutually beneficial relationship with members of the tribe. We all grow together as we create, consume, and change.
How you think about other Tribe-Builders
This leads us to perhaps the greatest soul-snatching aspect of tribe building—jealousy. Hear me out before you move on.
The internet is full of bloggers trying to build a tribe. I am a part of one Facebook group with 800+ such writers. Tribe-building can start to feel like a competition. Or worse, a war.
“Why are they getting more attention than me?”
“Why is their tribe growing faster?”
Here is a quick litmus test:
What goes through your mind when a fellow blogger . . .
receives a jaw-dropping review for their new e-book?
writes a post that goes viral?
signs a publishing deal?
Is it joy? Or is it something you would rather not say?
If you struggle with this, here is an exercise to try. For the next week, do not promote anything you write, only other people’s work. Don’t do this blindly, share and promote work you really like. Take note what happens in your heart.
Building a tribe is hard. The task is more fun if we work together. Find a group of like-minded writers and go for it.
How you think about Yourself
Do you remember why you started writing? Was it because you wanted to be read or because you loved the feel of words on the page?
I started writing because I had a message that needed a voice. I continue writing for the joy of words forming beautiful sentence radiating meaning off of the page. I write because I love to write.
But when building a tribe, it can quickly become about creating for others. Our passion slides to the background as our drive for an audience takes over.
My friend Chris put it this way: “Tribe building can be deadly to the soul because it often separates us from our heart and passion. We begin writing for others. It is a very different thing to write in order to serve those who need your words, than it is to pander to the masses.”
Ironically, when we start “pandering to the masses” our writing dims and our voice weakens. We lose the sharp edge for fear of offending. It actually makes it harder to build a tribe (or at least the kind of tribe we want).
If you want to build a tribe and keep your soul, you need to remain anchored in your creative purpose. Hold tightly to the reason you write.
For me, I write to inspire and help others become who God made them to be. If you see me publishing posts like “21 celebrities without makeup” and “This man buys a hamburger . . . and you won’t believe what happens next!” then you know I’ve lost my way. Feel free to send me an email and help me get my soul back.
That is why we need tribes. Because we need the loving accountability only a community offers.
Building a tribe is hard. But you don’t have to lose your soul in the process. Write. Create. Be Yourself. And you will be surprised how quickly an audience gathers.
Have you ever stood at the railing of a tall balcony or at the edge of a high cliff and the thought pops into your mind, “Jump!” Or, even worse, have you felt the urge to push someone else off?
The French call this urge “L’appel du vide “ which is roughly translated, “the call of the void.” However, this thought doesn’t mean you’re suicidal. It means you’re alive. It also reveals something deeper about who we are as humans.
We are free to make choices and our choices have consequences.
Each morning you wake up and go about your life. Your choices determine the direction and momentum of your story. You are slowly steering your life into the future.
This reality is never more evident than when you are looking over the ledge of a balcony. There is a clear possibility. You can make a choice that will radically alter your life forever. The power of your choice is overwhelming. Kierkegaard called this “the dizziness of freedom.”
The power of our choice is disorienting. Our freedom is frightening.
This extends beyond the balcony.
The choices you make today will impact your life as radically as the choice on the balcony. The only difference is you won’t see the results immediately.
This frightens us. It’s scary to realize the impact of each decision on our lives. While we can back away from the ledge or step off the balcony, we can’t step away from life. Passivity also has consequences.
Whether you sleep until noon or wake early to invest in your gifts, it is your choice.
Whether you reconcile a relationship or “vent your feelings” to someone else, it is your choice.
Whether you accept constructive criticism or deny feedback, it is your choice.
Whether you seek truth or live in a lie, it is your choice.
When you stop to think about it, the weight is overwhelming. That’s why we try to convince ourselves we are powerless.
Fatalism—the belief that life is inevitable and predetermined—is an attractive alternative to the dizziness of freedom.
It is easier to blame others than take responsibility for our choices.
It is easier to bemoan our circumstances than face reality.
It is easier to believe nothing will change than work to create it.
It is easier to back away from our dreams than fight for a better future.
We convince ourselves we are powerless because we don’t want the responsibility of our reality. Too often, we choose to pull the covers over our heads and wish it away. But wishing won’t change the world.
Your sacrifices change the world.
It’s time to take our decisions seriously. No more slowly throwing ourselves off the balcony. Embrace the power of your choices and make good ones. Live life today the way you want your life to look in the future.
And one more encouragement for those times when the dizziness of freedom is overwhelming: your choices are powerful, but they are not the most powerful force in the universe.
Because God is the source of my freedom, I can make decisions in the context of his overall plan for my life. When I make a bad decision, I can receive forgiveness. When I don’t know what to choose, I do the best I can, trusting him to tie the loose ends together.
I find great comfort in the mysterious intersection of my freedom and God’s plan. It doesn’t make me lazy, it makes me bold. I can run towards the future knowing it lies in God’s hands. I am not alone on the balcony and that is the greatest comfort of all.
Join the growing tribe here at JoshIrby[dot]com and download the PDF for free.
About Josh Irby
Josh is a writer who lives in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina with his wife and three children. For more than a decade he has worked with university students, helping them tell better stories with their lives. If you come to Sarajevo, you will likely find him in the corner of a local cafe sipping a macchiato and talking with friends.
Check out Josh’s Book
Two travelers—150 years apart—find love and meaning in Sarajevo. A true story.