No Regrets, S’il Vous Plait

In early December of 2012, I was having a heated conversation with a business associate of mine, Joe, in a bar at the top of the Radisson Hotel in Oslo, Norway.  The “heat” was no doubt fueled by several rounds of Marker’s Mark and Coke by that point in the evening.

We had several topics going at one time, including one that I will get into in a later post, regarding the role of genetics in our being who (and where) we are in life.  At some point during the conversation, I recounted for Joe my Climbing the Buddha exploits that I discussed here.  One topic led to another and then somehow I ended up telling Joe about a job opportunity (with an NFL team) that I had passed on while I was working for the NFL in Europe from 1997 – 2000.

Joe’s reaction when I had finished telling how I had passed up this job offer was along the lines of, “And it was the biggest mistake of your life, and you have regretted it ever since!”

My response, without missing a beat was, “No, actually I don’t regret it at all.  In fact, it was through my Climbing the Buddha experience and the aftermath that I learned to live life without any regrets whatsoever.”

(You’ll note that in So, About The Name, I said that “In hindsight, <Climbing the Buddha> felt like a bad move.”  I purposely did not say that I regretted my actions, although, truth be told, AT THE TIME, I was full of regret.)

“How is that possible,” Joe asked, skeptically.  “You passed up this great offer, stayed with the NFL, and then when you came back from London, your NFL career went down the toilet.  How could you possibly NOT be filled with regret?”

It was at that point, again probably with the aid of the Maker’s, that I got philosophical with Joe.  “Here’s the thing,” I said.  “I am absolutely certain that I am exactly where I am supposed to be right now, standing in this bar, having this conversation with you.  And I know that, if I had not made that decision, my life would be very different now.”

Joe wasn’t buying it. “OK, that’s easy for you to say now, and believe me, I’m glad that you are here and that we’re having this conversation. But how do you know that your life wouldn’t be ten times better if you had decided the other way?  You should be kicking yourself for not taking that opportunity!” He was baiting me.

I had to take the philosophical approach to another level.  I had to go metaphysical.  “You’re right, Joe. But there’s one thing you haven’t taken into consideration.”  I then explained to Joe some of the thought process I experienced as I started to Climb the Buddha every day.  I came to the realization that the place I found myself in was not the result of that one single decision to Climb the Buddha at the NFL Christmas Party on December 17, 2001.  It was the culmination of EVERY decision I had made up to that point in my life, big and small.  And the result of EVERY decision that everyone else I had ever interacted with at some point in my life had made up to the point of their having made a decision that impacted me in some way.

I then told him that through this period of introspection (and the process of climbing out of the hole I had dug myself into), as I thought about the period of time from February 1998, when I passed on the offer, to the end of 2001, I came to a very profound conclusion (profound at least from my perspective).  “I know,” I told Joe, “with ABSOLUTED CERTAINTY, that my decision to pass on that offer was the right one.  And in fact, that every decision I made in my life (big and small), up through January 1999, was the perfectly correct decision.”

I paused as Joe looked at me incredulously.  And I waited for him to ask the question that I knew he would.  “That is a ridiculous thing to say.  How could you possibly make that statement?”

“Because,” I continued, “in January 1999, my wife and I conceived our son Alex.  The exact combination of that specific sperm and that specific egg only happens if everything prior to that time happens precisely as it did.  And I would not trade my son for anything or for any other possible life that I might be living if I had made any different decisions prior to January 1999.”

Joe admitted this wasn’t an explanation he had expected. He didn’t have any children of his own and didn’t think that he and his wife would ever have kids.  I thought that I heard a touch of sadness in his voice – maybe because he would never fully understand the infinite love a parent has for a child and how that love changes your perspective ON EVERYTHING.

The world we live in is a direct result of all the decisions that have been made to this point.  It is impossible to know how different things would be if alternate choices had been made.  But like Marty McFly going back in time, there is no way to keep the time-space continuum exactly the same if you interject any new variable into the system.

Maybe there are an infinite number of parallel universes, each one the result of a different set of decisions being made.  Whether, from an individual perspective, any of those alternative universes are “better” or “worse” is wholly subjective.  From my perspective, I’m perfectly happy with the one that I have been blessed to inhabit.

What do I take away from all of this?  Regret is a waste of time and energy.  I don’t think anyone consciously tries to make a sub-optimal decision (although I’m sure someone will give me several examples that I am not thinking about).

You’ll often hear people say, “If I knew then, what I know now . . .” But you can’t change the past.  You make the best decisions you can, based on what you know at the time. So spending your time looking in the rear view mirror, wishing you had done something differently, won’t change anything about the past, present, or future.

I choose instead to keep my eyes on the road ahead while trying to enjoy the journey and the surrounding countryside.  Through January 1999, I was batting 1.000.  I don’t have any reason to think that my average has gone down since then.

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