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I was having lunch with a very bright and talented young friend, this week, when he observed that he “should have” done something in his past. He was expressing regret for missing an opportunity that won’t come again.
Everyone has things like this in their lives. As we go through the years, sometimes there are too many choices for the time or resources we have available. There are also opportunities that we either don’t recognize or for which we don’t see value when they show up.
As we look back and recognize these missed opportunities, we have a choice about what we do with them.
Many, like my young friend, feel regret and a certain sense of wistfulness at the missed opportunity. Others punish themselves feeling that they were foolish, immature, or cowardly for not having taken a certain path. I believe such feelings are misplaced and potentially destructive because they tend to be confidence robbers.
When I was a senior in college I was accepted to Naval Aviation Officer Candidate School. But, I didn’t go. Years later the movie, “Top Gun” with Tom Cruise, came out and sent me into a tailspin of regret and self-criticism. When I finally pulled out of that I decided to let this experience be a lifetime teacher. I resolved not to see my decision as one of failure but of learning. I learned that when opportunity comes, take it.
This attitude is a risk forward way to approach life. I think it has been essential to my progress as an entrepreneur. It taught me that when I learn from experience, there is no failure. I now see my choice, not with regret and recrimination, but with gratitude. This experience, along with many others, have been my teacher and thus valuable.
So, as we think about roads not taken, experiences not had, and decisions we would like to have made differently, we have a choice. We can reflect on them in a way that is destructive to our confidence as we tell ourselves we, “coulda, shoulda, woulda,” or we can use them as motivators for our future, as we say instead, “can, will, and yes.”