A few weeks back, a friend of mine shared an article in her email newsletter. It was an advice column, actually, and the main gist of the question for which the asker was seeking advice was the age-old, and sometimes quite sticky: Should I have a kid?
It was a lengthy ask, and a lengthier answer, but I was surprisingly intrigued. As you know, I’m childless by choice, and this conversation never ceases to both amaze and frustrate me in equal measure. Not that folks are intentionally reflecting in their decision-making process (which is a very good idea), but the other things that surround that initial intention – stuff like why everybody cares so much about everyone else’s choices, how it’s always the first freaking thing we want to know about a woman (especially if she’s over thirty), how judgy people can get about decisions either way, and the methods and metrics we’re encouraged to utilize in making the decision.
For instance, in this particular Q&A, the asker shares about not having a strong opinion either way, struggling to sort that out, but really starting to see the real crux of the thing: I’m pretty sure I’m great without kids, so am I just thinking about it seriously now because I’m afraid I’ll regret it later on?
To my great surprise, the columnist basically says yes, go with that! And then, to my continued shock and horror, they continue by explaining how they have basically made three-quarters of their life decisions in the context of regretting it later. This was the major method and metric to use, the one that would give the seeker their clear answer.
I mean, OK, I’ll back up a little. I see what we’re going for here. Putting some time and distance perspective into our decisions can be immensely helpful for sorting out the present. Distancing is a real, researched, and determinedly effective tool. Thinking from the perspective of your future self, visualizing what your life could be like, perhaps what you want it to be like, is a powerful thing. And it can absolutely help clarify answers and choices. But not with this bent of regret.
Making decisions based on fear of regret boils down to making fear-based decisions.
Is that a productive way to determine major life choices? Or really, any choices? Come on, you know the answer here. You also know I’m not huge on black/white thinking or telling you there’s only one way to go, but this is pretty clear in itself.
Fear-based decisions do not lead us into a life of confidence.
Part of the problem is that this question of regret is often steeped in cultural conditioning and pressure, whether we blatantly recognize that or not. Could be some internalized or unconscious bias happening too. The kid question for sure involves some of that. Our society places a great importance on building a family. If you don’t want that, conditioning often makes you question it, and approaching the reflection process from the standpoint of regret will often play tricks on what you know about yourself, for fear of not meeting expectations, standards, or obligations.
Basically, if you utilize this framework without discernment, it’s pretty much always going to make the case that yes, of course you’ll regret it.
And I don’t believe that’s true for a second. I certainly don’t think it’s helpful. In fact, I believe it’s what gets a lot of us in the exact troubling feelings and situations we were probably trying to avoid when we first started asking questions and making decisions in the first place.
Career, relationships, family, finances – I bet you a Coke you’ve made an, “If I don’t do this now, I’ll regret it later!” decision that has not panned out at all. I mean, how many people have been swindled on that exact line, ending up losing their life savings, divorced, or with a pantry full of diet shakes and snacks that taste like cardboard? Using fear of regret as your main compass is ultimately a tool in predatory pressure, inflicted both externally and on ourselves…that often just leads to the very regret you were trying to prevent.
I texted back and forth with my friend about the whole thing, and it was a much better way to process through it, actually. To consider this approach, but then be critical of it too. I told her:
“It was fun to think about it myself this morning. I know I truly don’t, and won’t regret it. If I had kids, it would be for all the wrong reasons. Mainly because I feel left out among all my friends who are moms. And honestly, probably 99% of the things I’ve done in life because I felt left out are the exact things I regret the most.”
Now that was an enlightening realization!
And that’s how to dig into making decisions. Don’t lead with fear. Lead with trust.
Play in the edges. Look for insights and patterns. Allow for the unseen or underacknowledged parts of yourself to bubble up. Ask more and different questions, from more and different angles. Explore your experiences and your intuition. Listen for what you already know, trust it to be true. Don’t be afraid of your fears. But don’t let them be your drivers.
Meaning, don’t avoid the fears you uncover or immediately give into them either – engage with them. Learn more about them. Follow the path of them. Figure out why they’re there, or if they’re really there after all. “Am I afraid I’ll regret this, or is it something else I’m really afraid of?” is a powerful question, and when you allow yourself to seek the answer to it, you’re likely going to find a much different, more personal, more insightful, more clear and useful answer than, “I’ll be sorry later.”
I realize that sounds, well, scary in itself. Engaging with your fears? Confronting them? Dissecting them? Yikes! But doesn’t it sound scary to base everything you do or don’t do on possible regret? Guilt, shame, disappointment? Yikes x 1000, to that, I say. Maybe asking whether you’ll regret a decision later in life is part of your process. It surely can be – a starting point for a broader discussion and examination of all the factors at play in making life choices. But this is not the one magical determinant of your clear answers.
The opposite of regret is satisfaction, contentment.
Perhaps, instead, that’s the approach to take with these big questions – will this bring me joy? Fulfillment? What does my life look like later on with that in mind? Which choice brings me closer to the life I want, without fear?
Because making the best choices for yourself is not about focusing on perceived missed opportunities, y’know? It’s about pursuing real possibilities.
Lead yourself into that life, with confidence.
Are you reflecting on some big decisions? Coaching can help your process. Email me to learn more about how, or find a time for us to chat. Sign up for weekly emails that always support leading a confident life.