Research shows that regret stems from a sense of lost opportunity.
In general, I try not to regret my past decisions. I believe they make me the person I am today. And I like me. I do, although, regret not getting a fine art degree. When I started as a freshman at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, my scientist father was mortified to think that his daughter might choose to major in something as unmarketable as art. He strongly suggested, nay, insisted, that I forgo the art, and instead, pursue a Bachelor of Science (BS).
A BS requires a student to complete a lot of math and science classes. For me, that is BS. When this unfortunate math/science requirement became clear to me, I decided to switch loyalties and get a Bachelor of Arts. I compromised to please my dad, and decided to study a “soft science” – psychology. I love people, so studying psychology was a good fit for me. However, I filled every elective with a variety of art classes. I learned oxy/acetylene welding in college. I wedged clay when I wasn’t writing papers. I practiced the basics of jewelry making.
I couldn’t get enough of the art classes because there were a limited number of electives I could take and still graduate. I had to fill my schedule with classes like statistics instead. Statistics. Not a good fit for me. I delighted in taking that one twice so I could get a passing grade the second time around.
I enjoyed classes like Child Development. We have a blended family of 5 kids, so I draw on my studies every single day. I never skipped a lecture in Gender Studies and Human Sexuality – that was an interesting class! I even eagerly went back to the psych building on Saturdays to participate in grad-student research projects. (Oh, wait – that was for the cash. Nevermind.) I don’t regret getting a Bachelor of Arts in psychology. I just wish I could have gotten a degree in fine arts as well. That was a missed opportunity.
Regret as a Motivator
What am I going to do about it now? I don’t like harboring regret. I’ve contemplated returning to school and finishing what I should have started long ago. But, I have reservations about spending the time and money for something that, ultimately, could prove to be as unmarketable as my dad predicted.
Do I want a piece of paper declaring my art program completion? No. Today, I can enroll in as many art classes as I want. If I truly don’t want to harbor regret, then maybe I should do just that.
If you are human, you probably have a few regrets yourself. Remember that while regret often stems from a sense of lost opportunity, regret can also offer opportunities. Regret provides motivation to make up for decisions in our past, "correct" them, if you will. It is usually not too late to revise our choices. Allowing past decisions to influence our present and future decisions allows us to diminish regret. That’s an opportunity not to be missed.