Updated: Jan 8, 2022
Recontextualizing the Past and No Regrets in the Future
My dad and I were so alike in many ways. Unfortunately, our introspective nature also meant we never discussed our introversion to help us both learn how to champion it. But we had some great moments together, often bonding with the unspoken word.
This week marks eight years since his death. I continue to learn and be inspired by his greatness. He was a quiet yet funny, caring, compassionate, hard-working family man. Recognizing these most worthy traits has motivated me to get my priorities straight since midlife.
One lesson he left with me without even realizing it was a conversation we had when he was in his early 80's, just a few years before his passing. I asked if he had any regrets in life. Without even pausing a second, he shared a story that seemed like he was waiting most of his life to tell. He quickly said, "I was a clarinetist." Never one to brag, he added, "...a very good clarinetist. First-chair at University. I always wanted to go to Julliard in New York City and see if I could make it as a musician."
I knew he loved music. I have such warm and fond memories of dad playing clarinet next to my mom on piano singing show tunes in our all blue, delft-laden living room museum. But he had bigger dreams!
He never got to go to Juilliard or pursue his musical ambitions. After University, he served his country in the Air Force in Korea and then came back to help run the family business. He met my mom and began to raise a family. He lived a full life with a great legacy of 4 kids, 9 grandkids, 2 great-grandkids, quirky faces, and life lessons he modeled for everyone.
Besides hoping to follow the role he modeled so well, I've pondered our conversation about life regrets many times and how I might learn from them.
Introverts in general are often great ruminators. We ponder life events and regrets, sometimes until it overwhelms us. I don't know if my dad was distracted by his lost dream often, but his prompt answer to my question was somewhat revealing.
I do think introverts risk getting stuck in the past. I know I certainly have regrets or missed opportunities. I was introduced to a word recently, 'recontextualizing' which I've applied to my dad's enduring story.
Sure, we all have regrets, actions we didn't take, focus lost, relationships unfulfilled. Such is life. But if it distracts us, that is when it's dangerous. If we recontextualize, we don't just try to forget it but to review it, consider what we did do well, and extract lessons learned which we can take forward. If we do this 'recontextualizing' we can gain a new perspective and become calm over the issue. Rather than allow it to control us we can reap some value and gain permission to move on with greater focus.
I've been working hard to recontextualize three of my personal regrets:
Relationships with parents: I felt for years that as an adult living remotely, I had become distant from my parents. Life was busy no doubt, but their financial and health complications were overwhelming. Instead of providing comfort, I often ran from that stress. This feeling of shame has haunted me, especially since their deaths in 2013 and 2015. But I realize now it's just not healthy. They are gone. To recontextualize, I think of them often, pay tribute to them by recognizing their legacy, and try to live my life with their wisdom. I am also focusing on relationships with my family to try to make the most of the time we have - to have no regrets.
Authentic Self: In the last several years as I wrote my memoir - In Search of Courage - and began my BeyondIntroversion blog, I've discovered strengths I never thought I had. I've converted introversion from a curse to a blessing for me. That transformation took me decades - many of which I wasted with alcohol, food, and stress. But I've refocused from shame and regret to a purpose - to help others to accelerate their own journey so they can embrace their true self.
Introversion leader: I was a team leader for more than half my 30-year career. Many roles and teams were successful and profoundly gratifying. Yet since retirement, countless co-workers and staff have remarked that they never thought I was an introvert. Many of these surprised people are introverts themselves. I hid my true personality like many introverts, trying to cope within an extroverted work culture. Yet I did have the opportunity to stand tall, to proclaim my introversion, and mentor and coach other introverts through corporate obstacles. I could have contributed to a better path for others by changing management's inclusivity of thought. I missed that opportunity. Recently, I've opted to stop wallowing in regret or remorse, I still have the chance to help others. My new book - The Corporate Introvert - is my effort to share approaches and tactics with other corporate introverts, to make it right, and to help open the door to leadership for other introverts.
You too can turn past regrets into positive motivators for the future. What is your biggest regret? How can you extract lessons and move forward?
Avoiding More Regrets
And going forward, we can try to live without regret in two distinct ways:
PAUSE: Cold you regret doing something that just does not feel right? Consider what you might regret. Are you choosing a path that you genuinely desire or perhaps being drawn in by conformity? Does it align with your values? Are you being driven by emotions more so than thoughtful consideration?
CONSIDERATION: Will you regret not doing something? This rarely applies to things we do all the time because we have confidence and comfort in our abilities. These situations usually arise when we have a chance to stretch our comfort zone and try something we have an inclination to try, but are often uncomfortable, lack confidence, or are plain scared to do. Now, that doesn't mean we should do it. I'm scared to death to jump out of an airplane. I'm convinced I will not regret it if I never do this. But if you have a chance to stretch your comfort zone and try something that deep down you want to do, it is worth considering. If you think it will also boost your confidence, learnings, perhaps relationships or career opportunities, you have all the more reason to try. Ask yourself if you may regret not gathering the gumption a week or a month from now or even into your 80's. If so, consider how you can approach the opportunity in small, doable pieces. Plan to practice your approach. Model from others that have accomplished the task. Encourage yourself with Positive Self Talk and celebrate the journey as much as the accomplishment.
Becoming What We Could Have Been
Don't try to block out your past ruminations or they may continue to haunt you the rest of your life. Recontextualize them to gain wisdom and keep yourself moving on with a positive step. With a bit of a pause and consideration, you can pick the most interesting opportunities and make them a reality, so you don't have nagging regrets down the road.
On page 107 of my current read, From Age-ing to Sage-ing, Rabbi Zusya of Hanipol considers the question he may be posed upon his death, "Why were you not what you could have been?" What a thought-provoking question. What is holding us back? Are we expending energy on items of little value? Are we ruminating on past regrets rather than recontextualizing and moving on? Are we shying away from stretching our comfort zone? If we try a different tact, will we move closer to "what [we] could have been?"
On the eighth anniversary of my dad's passing, I believe my dad is still holding my hand, encouraging and inspiring me to achieve what I could be.
What are your hidden dreams? What are your regrets?
It's okay, we all have them. It's what we do with them. We have the power to choose whether they weigh us down or inspire us toward greatne