On living with the right regrets

Whoever suggested living so as to have no regrets, it seems to me, didn’t know life very well or hadn’t lived very much of it. It can’t be done, as anyone who’s lived very long knows full well. “Maybe all one can do,” playwright Arthur Miller speculated, “is hope to end up with the right regrets.”

I thought of Miller and right regrets today when I heard Whitney Johnson, president and cofounder of Rose Park Advisors, talking about the principles of “disruptive innovation” developed by Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor. One of her points was that market risk in career development is better than competitive risk. She meant it’s better to try and fail at something entirely new and unique than to try and fail in competition against established players.

If I regret that I made mistakes in the competitive world or that I wasn’t good enough against the competition, that’s probably a wrong regret, because it means I was playing the wrong game, probably someone else’s game. It means I was competing instead of innovating, creating, venturing. It means I hadn’t identified and risked genuine authenticity in life.

So what’s a right regret? If I take “regret” to mean “to mourn the loss of” or “to miss very much,” then a right regret might be in not having more time or one more opportunity to try something new. I might regret having too little time or resources to develop my growing, deepening, emerging self. Am I still growing and deepening in self-knowledge? Is something brand new in me just beginning to emerge?

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