10 Steps to Overcoming Your Greatest Disappointments and Regrets.
No matter if they are personal or professional, your fault or someone else’s, that which haunts you is only temporary if you take action.
Though I do not consider myself an expert on the matter, the side of this author who tends to dispense such advice now and then holds a B.A. degree in Special Education with a 10-year background teaching severely emotionally impaired at-risk children and adults, a substantial course load in Abnormal Psychology, and has suffered the slings and arrows of both personal hardship and a subsequent career as a writer-producer for film and television.
I’ve dealt with my share, have learned from my experiences, and am coming to you as one who offers well-intended advice for those very reasons.
I ask for your indulgence.
Three Personal Regrets
Note: The names that follow are quoted to protect anonymity. They may or may not have been changed.
“Linda” was one of my closest friends. We had met during my first teaching job, at a school for autistic children and adults in Staten Island, New York, when she was assigned as my assistant. We hit it off … which the school had a field day observing. I’m white, Linda was black. Let’s just say that attitudes were not as progressive in Staten Island then as now. Thing is, Linda was happily married. We were great friends; no one believed we weren’t considerably more.
I was her “token Jewish friend.” She was my “token black friend.” Not really in either circumstance, but we used that language in fun to offend nearly everyone.
We had a blast.
I married my wife in 2001. Linda was a guest at my wedding and flew 3000 miles to be there. Shortly thereafter, she developed sarcoid, an inflammatory illness — in most cases, including hers, of the lungs — that afflicts primarily African Americans. We stayed in contact for many years … until marriage and the pursuit of a lucrative professional life caused me to become far too lax in returning calls (an issue with which I, admittedly, still struggle).
One day, while perusing the internet, I discovered my old friend passed of her illness.
How I wish I was in more consistent contact.
“Bernie” was a kindly older gentleman for whom I partially ghostwrote a book about surviving old age. He was a sweet man who was obsessed with writing, and dying.
He loved my wife, who graduated from the University of Michigan, his alma mater. He invited us to events, and I was there for him when his wife passed of cancer.
But when I had completed the assignment, I had planned for a happy client, not a friendship. I especially had not planned on Bernie looking upon me as a grandson. I was flattered, but we had nothing in common.
He was lonely, in a retirement community, and I did meet him for the occasional breakfast where he would more often than not tell me about his new “girlfriends” (plural intended).
One night, Bernie called and said he really needed to talk to me. My wife later asked if we had any calls that day. I said, “Bernie. I’ll get back to him when I can.”
I received a call from his book’s publisher a week later. Bernie had passed away. In hindsight, my suspicion was that he called me to say “goodbye.”
But I never called him.
“Trevor” was my “buddy,” which he called me and everyone who made his acquaintance. He was a co-star on a network television show who went on to do a film for an old company of mine. A rough and tumble Australian, or so I thought, he was fascinated by my love of boxing. We hit it off.
One night, we had made tentative plans to meet some friends in Hollywood. I told him honestly I had some family obligations that evening, and I was unsure if I’d be able to make it.
I didn’t make it. He was furious on the phone the day after, but soon settled.
Trevor was going through hard times, most especially a divorce where his soon-to-be-ex wife had asked for custody of their two children. I had met his new girlfriend, who was terrific and we still stay in touch. But Trevor had his demons.
I called Trevor a week later. He sounded completely unlike his usual boisterous self. He told me he was fine mentally, but he was slurring his words and coughing. He said he wasn’t feeling well otherwise and he’d call me “tomorrow.”
Tomorrow never came. Trevor was dead by morning of a drug overdose. I found out when my wife left a message on my voicemail at work.
I think back, and ponder — perhaps unfairly — if I was there for him more as he was going through his difficulties, maybe he’d still be here today.
There were, however, “discoveries” in this process. Those of us present at his memorial discovered Trevor was, in fact, English, not Australian, which was a charade he put on to make it in the television business. Further, he was in his early-40s, not his late-30s as he claimed. I didn’t know, despite our friendship.
I also didn’t know he was heavily into drugs. He hid his insecurities, and his demons, from almost everyone.
I regret that too. I believed he really needed a good friend with whom to talk. Maybe that was his intention on the night I didn’t show. I still ponder.
What did my three friends have in common? They died. Constant reminders that life is far too short, and regrets should be rectified, if at all possible, before it’s too late.
I’ll get back to this.
Three Professional Regrets
1. My dad never had the opportunity to see me succeed.
My biggest television sale as a writer was to the network TNT, for what was supposed to have been M. Night Shyamalan’s “Tales from the Crypt.” I wrote the pilot and show bible. The series never moved forward, but the sale was enough to get me into my union, the Writers Guild of America (WGA), which I struggled for years to join due to its stringent membership requirements.
During this period, I also published my first of three novels, entitled, “The Chronicles of Ara: Creation.” I embarked on my first book tour and numerous speaking engagements.
My dad passed a few years prior. He didn’t see any of this, but we shared some amazing words before he passed. I had closure, at the very least.
Still, I wonder what could have been if the show sale and the novel sale happened when he was alive.
2. About another actor from a popular TV show, and the first time I was “backstabbed” in my business.
I was working on a project, with a partner, for one of television’s most popular actors at the time. We were in the midst of our work when my beloved grandfather passed away.
I went back home to New York for the funeral, and to spend a few days with my parents.
When I returned to Los Angeles, I discovered my partner finished the project, and took the actor’s money. He wouldn’t give me a penny, actually telling me I “made a choice.” He said I could have worked on the project while away.
I regret not being more aggressive with him, but in hindsight the experience made me wise up to certain unseemly facets of my business.
My career paused for about ten years after that. I was convinced it would have been my “big break.”
3. I made a television deal that was supposed to set me up for life.
I had a nice contract from a network for another series that did not move forward. I‘ve kicked myself thinking there must have been more I could have done to enable it to do so.
But I’ve learned I cannot live in regret. And neither should you. And so I studied …
The Ten Steps
- Take Preventive Measures. Much like a healthy diet to maintain your physical health, which in turns aids your mental health, take stock of your emotions. Practice coping mechanisms should something go wrong, so they do not seep into regret. Create a list of actions you can take to better your judgement, and utilize them.
- Learn From Your Mistakes. Human beings are creatures of emotional habit. Chances are, like the rest of us, you have made mistakes in your life. Do not beat yourself up. Learn from them, and educate yourself as to how to not repeat the mistake in the future.
- Correct the Action If You Can. If it’s not too late and you have an opportunity to correct the action that caused you regret, suck it up and do so. Starting fresh is frequently a gift, but be sure what you are getting into first.
- Write (or Record) Your Thoughts. I’ve learned as a teacher of former gang members that honestly writing about one’s life experiences is among the most powerful tools we have. I have personally seen numerous instances of disadvantaged students writing about their lives and using their own words as therapy. They hearkened back to their writing and found instances where mistakes were made, and in the passage of time they had discovered ways to avoid them.
- Escape. Treat yourself, and another if you like, to a movie, a vacation, or even a long drive. Escape. Get away from it all. Return from your break refreshed, and with the realization that you can attain control over your more stressful day-to-day.
- Engage in Disciplined Physical Activity. Speaks for itself. Physical activity releases endorphins and clears thoughts.
- Meditate/Alone Time. There is nothing like actively calming your mind. Alone time, however, does not work for everyone. Some will over-think their disappointments and regrets when left by themselves. You will have to decide on your own what works best for you.
- Mediate. If you are in a position to do so, and the object of your regret or disappointment is another person, talk it out. A mutually agreeable outcome goes a long way to regaining focus.
- Remind Yourself You Live in the Present. This one is not always easy. Many of us will dwell on unpleasant past events. Abuse by a loved one, for example, may set off symptoms resembling PTSD. This tendency may require therapy; don’t dismiss professional help as a possible aid to what ails you. To others of you who may not feel as strongly but are nagged by the past, remind yourself that the past … has passed. Rely on your logic and reason that your future does not equal your past unless you allow it. Sometimes, simple reminders really do work.
- Educate Others. This strategy is typically overlooked, but is yet another powerful tool. Speak to others about your regrets, but listen to others about theirs. Maybe your experiences can help or inspire them. Do not come across as offering professional advice if you are not a professional, of course. But sharing with others, and educating them in the process, will often help both the deliverer, and the listener.
Many of us are different in our emotional wiring, and yet we are all human. We don’t have all that much time, which I’ve been reminded of far too often. Use here what works for you.
I hope this article gives some comfort to those who need it.
Thank you for reading.
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