I recently listened to a Hidden Brain podcast on looking back at our lives. The podcast was broken into two parts: regrets and nostalgia. I am listening to the podcast in two parts, and am writing this post after listening to the first.
As I listened to the recorded calls of people telling stories of their biggest regrets, I could hear that people were divided into two camps. Half talked about chances they didn’t take, the others talked about things they had done that they wished they hadn’t.
I’m both cases, people assumed that if they had done things another way, life would have been different. Some were serious, such as a daughter choosing not to speak to the father she would never see again. Others were more about a missed opportunity only realized in hindsight such as a man who passed up the lead in a play.
I have a similar regret. When I was a girl I loved gymnastics, thanks to Nadia Comeneci. I loved watching her in the Olympics and wanted to be her. My mom signed me up for our town’s recreational gymnastics league. It was coached by a woman who took us seriously and was prepping us for the high school team. My specialty was the beam. My big trick was a hands-free flip where I was suspended in the air for a moment, before landing with both feet on the tiny plank.
I always planned to join the high school team, but when high school came I had a decision to make. My driver’s education behind-the-wheel was scheduled for the same time as practice. If I skipped that I wouldn’t be able to reschedule until after everyone else, which would mean I wouldn’t get my license until I was older than 16.
I just couldn’t wait. I chose behind-the-wheel and missed practice and ultimately tryouts. I don’t remember now why I could only try out that one time, but I never did. And then before I knew it, I was too old to even do a cartwheel anymore. But I still remember what it was like to fly, if only for a few seconds, before landing back on that beam.
These days I get my exercise in less exciting ways. I’ve had bunion surgery and broken more bones than I can count so I keep my feet on the floor with yoga and Pilates. When I use the reformer in Pilates class, I almost feel like a gymnast again because I can point my toes like a master, but it’s not the same.
The podcast discussed how people learn from experiences that leave them feeling regretful. I can certainly see the lesson that is to be learned from my experience, but I don’t really think I understood that until I was a lot older. Now when I look back on that time I would tell myself to wait to take the driver’s ed class. In the grand scheme of a life, waiting a year to get a license isn’t a big deal. But understanding that the new exciting thing isn’t going to be that exciting for that long was beyond my grasp then.
But I also know I couldn’t act that way when I was that person. I also don’t know if I would have regretted going out for gymnastics instead of getting my license. According to the show people tend to regret things they didn’t do and wish they had longer than those they do and wish they hadn’t. It’s as if we can create a whole new reality in the vacuum left by what we might have done.
But if we really want to change the course of time, maybe the best way to do that is by learning from the places in our past where we think we made bad choices. That way those can become moments not of regret, but growth.
See you next time. When I’ll be still be looking back. But waxing nostalgic.