re·gret – r???ret/
1.feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over (something that has happened or been done, especially a loss or missed opportunity).
One of the principles I use to live my life is simple: have no regrets. I believe this has made me a happier person, and has allowed me to turn decisions that might eat away at me into lessons that I can use to make better decisions in my future.
A big decision that I made relatively early in my life that has had massive consequences for me was the decision to accept a Navy ROTC scholarship in the senior year of high school. Doing this meant that when I graduated in 1999 I entered the Navy, instead of potentially going to work in the nascent internet industry (or somewhere else). I was effectively locked into six years of Navy service instead of participating in one of the craziest times of the internet’s growth.
But while I could regret the opportunities I passed up, I also have to recognise the transformational experiences I did have in the Navy. At 23 years old I was put in charge of a nuclear reactor. At 24 years old I was running a $2billion submarine and responsible for safety of 130 crew members’ lives. And because I had my ROTC scholarship, I graduated with zero college loans or any other financial burdens. So while I might have been able to be a part of the internet’s wild ride, I actually did start my career with some very unique experiences and a decent financial footing.
(That said, at the time I was a huge Google fan and user… partly because I got to Michigan just after Larry Page left and knew people that were friends of his. If I had managed to convince Google to hire me around the time I graduated in 1999, I would have been anywhere from employee number 15 to 60. That could have been… lucrative.)
How I think about potential regrets
So while I have made a number of decisions in my life that if I look back I might do differently, I remember that each decision was made with the best information I had available at the time. The benefit of hindsight is information that you never had when you actually had to make the decision! Where I would have chosen to do something differently I analyse what I wish I would have known to figure out if there are ways I should systematically do more research or think differently about categories of decisions. Then I can take any lessons from those situations and apply them to future decisions.
Having this attitude has made me a lot happier. I have made a conscious decision to have no regrets, which allows me to focus on the benefits I’ve had from the decisions I’ve made. The only control I have in life is over the decisions I’m making right now, today. Regret is simply a waste of time and energy.