Je Ne Regrette Rien…Not!

“Je ne regrette rien”.  My mom used to do a decent, highly entertaining imitation of Edith Piaf (assuming that Edith Piaf was ‘un peu’ tone deaf). Mom had the hand gestures, closed eyes, dramatic intonations down (and her Marlene Dietrich was even better).  Of course, she didn’t do this too often either because we would laugh or worse, sing along.

Of course the words of the song aren’t completely true.  I have regrets – from absolutely frightening glamour-don’ts to opportunities I dismissed to emotional pain that I have inflicted with and without thought.  Happily it’s not Yom Kippur, so this is not an apologia and I’m not seeking forgiveness (though I am sorry).  I’m just putting it out there – to live with no regrets is arguably not a lot of living at all.  I worry about those of a certain age who maintain that there is nothing in their history for which they would love a do-over.  Really?  Perhaps someone should speak to Tom Brady this morning.  No regrets – puleeze…

What distinguishes those who make peace with their history and those who don’t?  Why do some people move on with such grace, while others dig in their heels protecting their positions with indignation and contempt for any suggestion that it may be time to move along?  Certainly fear and insecurity are paralytic responses and the term ‘comfort zone’ didn’t find its place in our lexicon out of nowhere.  I think there are other subtle and intractable contributors to cementing people in their places.  The blurred line between that which we know and that which we must put into practice become increasingly difficult to identify as we move closer to a life changing decision.

It has been enlightening to watch partners retire from the firm with a sense of appreciation and pride, looking forward to their next iterations with delight.  The decision to retire was theirs to make; no one suggested that it was their time to move over and aside.  They’d committed themselves to the firm for years, arguably sacrificed more than they wanted and gained more than they could have initially thought.  Rita Coolidge was right – it’s better to leave when still ‘in love’.  One partner advised me when I was considering this decision that I would need to approach my retirement with the same diligence and dedication with which I had worked.  It was great advice.  I’m taking it on energetically and am watching whatever ambivalence I felt fade in the rear view mirror.

This represents a distinction from those who leave with antipathy and frustration.  It’s an interesting and unfortunate phenomenon.  They can’t let it go.  Whether there is too little to look forward to or too much to let go of, they need to hold on – perhaps for that one moment too long.  And it is in that moment that their hindsight will include regret.  Whether in one’s professional life or personal history, there is regret associated with poor timing, inability to re-calibrate our direction realistically and with humility, when the ‘should haves’ trump the ‘dids’.

The big tease of course rests with the knowledge that if one risks nothing, one regrets nothing.  If we look back on our lives and regret all that we didn’t try, didn’t say, didn’t do – how do we reconcile our inability to move?  As one who is geographically challenged, the nice part of heading off in the wrong direction is that I can always turn around.  And you know?  There’s a lot to be said for being lost for a little while.  It’s risky, a bit scary and the likelihood is great that you’ll never be able to re-create the same route.  But for that moment in time, you’re free to explore without encumbrances or requirements.  For that moment in time, you can sing like Piaf.