FOUR: Fearing Regret and How It Fuels Me

Ouch!

Me, regretting taunting my friend’s angry cat for the 10th time that day

I was blessed throughout my childhood with not just a loving household and family, but also a good quality education. It is something I’m extremely lucky to have access to, and something we often take for granted. I myself look back and wish I’d paid just that little bit more attention, worked just that little bit harder, put in that little 1-2% more. I was a real dork through school, and when I wasn’t on my A game I’d get a little distracted. But it’s easy for me to say 8+ years post-schooling that I could’ve done a little better. Because 26 year old me would do better. He’s got a lot more life experience now, he’s grown ten-fold as a person. But for those wondering, no. He did not outgrow dork. He will still play video games, he will still make cringe-worthy puns and dad jokes that would make the best of them groan. You just don’t outgrow dork.

The reason I talk about my schooling is because it was in the classroom that I realised my greatest fear in life. It wasn’t a student, it wasn’t some schoolyard bully who harassed me, it was a teacher. And a wonderful teacher at that. And while the teachings of one Ms J. (did anyone else hear Harley Quinn’s voice just then?) on that one particular day had left a lasting impression on me, I will be forever grateful for it.

Picture this. 9 kids and a teacher, just a small cohort for this particular elective subject. The class was Society and Culture. I probably would not be doing justice to those who teach it, but essentially it was an exploration of those two particular branches of study, and how they are linked. This particular class was taught by aforementioned Ms J, one of the rock stars who not only tolerated me (who am I kidding, I was and still am delightful), but supported me through my schooling.

I don’t recall all of the details of this lesson; but Ms J focussed the lesson for the day explored Erik Erikson’s (creative name) Stages of Psychosocial Development. In short, we undergo eight main stages of social development from infancy all the way to our later years. In fact, I could easily discuss more than one of these and their relationship with mental health, but one in particular resonated with my 16/17 year old self; the last one. Erikson coined it “Integrity v Despair”, but I prefer to refer to it as “Rejoice v Remorse”. Same concept, but my title is catchier (take that, Erik).

The idea was as such (pardon my paraphrasing); as we reach our later years, and we appear to have more days behind us than ahead of us, we begin to reminisce. As the pace of our life slows itself down, and we have a cute but ageing Labrador, and an even cuter but ageing spouse, we look back on our experiences. We look back at our achievements, our setbacks, our highs, our lows and everything in between. It evokes a feeling within us, which is where the psych element comes into fruition. We will either rejoice, or we will despair (I shall share credit with you, Mr Erikson).

Some of us will celebrate the journey we walked to get where we are, looking fondly back on our experiences, rejoice in the happy memories we created, the places we went, the lives we touched, the lives that touched us. For others, this time of reflection can prove to be a source of great sorrow, where we experience anguish over things we wish we did, relationships we wish we could’ve repaired, or maybe regretting missed opportunities and experiences we did not take.

And that right there was when I realised the one thing I truly feared (aside from my crippling fear of heights, but I’m working on that…kinda), getting to the end of the road and feeling that I hadn’t done enough.

From that day onwards I had vowed to work hard. Work hard in whatever I decided to pursue for a living, work hard with my future partner (because this Lord knows I’ll be hard work and a royal pain in the ass), and work hard on leaving this earth feeling fulfilled.

For a while, I got sucked into late nights as a bar manager and a comfortable home life. It felt like I was settling into a comfortable, middle-age dad existence minus the associated age, wedding bells or screaming children, and for a while I thought that’s what I wanted. Breaking out that spin cycle of a lifestyle, my fear was renewed. And with that fear, came a whole new motivation.

Traveling to Egypt changed my life for a great number of reasons, the biggest of those was that it opened my eyes. There is so much going on outside of my little bubble, there is a ridiculously large landmass I have not tread, and there will be a great deal of it left unseen when I call it a day. But if I don’t go and leave as many blades of grass beneath my feet, then what will I look back on and rejoice about?

I’m certainly not discrediting anyone’s way of life, I implore anyone who is doing what fulfils them to keep at it! But for those still looking for that purpose, I double down and implore you to keep looking for it. There is great mass of places, cultures and people beyond our bubble, beyond our comfortable. There are so much to be learned outside of our norm and routine, especially about ourselves.

When I picture my later years, it looks a lot like a scene from How I Met Your Mother. You know, when Lily talks about the “back porch”? When Lily, Marshall, Ted and his future wife all sit on the back porch reminiscing. Well that’s how I picture it; my future wife, myself and my now-married best friends. So when that time comes, and we’re sitting on the back porch, I want to look fondly on the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, the things I did. And when I do, I want to rejoice.

Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mental Health

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