Forget Regret or Life is Yours to Miss

Apr 30, 2012 by

Forget Regret or Life is Yours to Miss

When I was 23, I headed to Hollywood with dreams of making it big. I got headshots. I took acting classes. I signed up to do extra work. And then…I sort of froze. The idea of trying to get an agent without being a member of one of the unions, the idea of really putting myself out there, of fully committing to the work…I let it overwhelm me and I froze.

I got scared. Everyone said if there was anything else in the world you could be happy doing, to do it. So I did. I went to law school. Of course, we know how that worked out—I sort of hated being a lawyer more than anything else.

I went to a convention a couple of weekends ago. In true geekish fashion, it was a fan convention where I got to meet some of my favorite actors and listen to them answer questions about the ins and outs of being a working actor and working on this particular show. It was fantastic and an amazing weekend all around and all I could think as I headed home was, “I gave up too soon. I didn’t try hard enough. I didn’t want it badly enough.”

One of the actors that weekend said something in the Q&A that the key to success in the acting business was not to have a backup plan. To go for it with all you had.

I never did that. And for a couple of hours the regret was almost stifling. The recriminations were sharp—all I’d wanted, all I’d dreamed for, and I just ran away when it got hard. I didn’t go hard enough, I always had a backup plan. I barely gave it two years, even. I had to pull over the car for a bit to just cry.

I could have stayed there: could have stayed in the place of wallowing in regret, in beating myself up for the life I could have had, for the things I could have done, could have been. A few years ago, before I started on this journey to living the life of my dreams, I would have. I likely would have been curled up in a devastated little ball for days, going on about how I was too old to change paths and I’d lost all my chances, and I was doomed to live an unfulfilled life.

But I didn’t. I let myself have that moment, to feel the feelings that rose up. And then I asked myself what staying in that place would mean for me. I asked myself where the grief was coming from: especially when I am now living a life that I find utterly fulfilling and full of so much joy.

I realized I’m not creating enough—that in working to build a business, in adjusting to a new home, in dealing with a PhD program and getting back into the swing of teaching writing, I’ve neglected my creative side. I haven’t worked on my own writing. I did one show, but I haven’t been actively involved in a theater since I moved East.

I’m a creator. I’m a performer. Those are integral parts of who I am. Yes—the fame game in Hollywood appeals to the ego, but it’s the creative process I love, knowing I’ve connected with other people, no matter on what scale. And there is absolutely nothing in my life, or my choices, that keeps me from doing that.

Regret does nothing but stifle choices and visions for the future. We all have them lurking in our pasts. But when you focus on them, when you beat yourself up over choices you made in the past that maybe you would change now—you cut off options for now. You cut off options to grow. You block your ability to love the life you have now.

That doesn’t mean regret is a useless emotion, however. Often, it can be a tool, something that teaches us about what we need in our lives. For me, I realized I needed to designate some time for more creative pursuits, both those underway (like finishing editing my novel), and those that appeal in totally new areas.

Regret can illuminate things we need for our happiness that are missing in our life, point out areas in which we need to grow, identify old wounds we need to heal, reveal forgiveness we need to seek or grant, allude to relationships we should rekindle or call attention to connections we feel are missing that we need to make. By recognizing past behavior we regret, we realize patterns in our life that we need to change for our own fulfillment. We can become aware of limiting beliefs (I’m too old to every try for a professional acting career again!), work to overcome them, and brainstorm ways to make the dreams we still harbor and those we have developed come true.

Wallowing in regret only gets you more regret, more loss. It puts your life on hold and makes you blind to all the blessings surrounding you. But if you use it as a tool to check over your life and set any necessary course corrections you will honor your heart and lead yourself toward the life of your dreams.

If you’re feeling stuck in the past, drowning in regret, and are ready to take a step toward something better, contact me to schedule a free Story Session where we can pinpoint areas in your story that need to be rewritten and talk about how I can help you resuscitate your dreams and help you on the path to your happily ever after.

*Photo: Me and Daniel Gillies (one of my favorite actors) at TVD Convention in Chicago, April 14, 2012.

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