Finding a reflective balance between learning and lamenting
I'm currently reading Dan Pink's Regret. I found the title especially interesting since, like many introverts, I tend to (over)reflect on life choices. I'm personally trying to use such experiences as learning moments rather than stewing on them merely as regrets or worse-yet, mistakes or shameful moments. Since I suspect many other introverts may be seeking that same reflective balance between learning and lamenting, I've chosen to explore this further in this week's blog.
True Regrets vs. Second-Guessing
I must say the book has been a bit of a slow grind so far. While I do believe we all have regrets to learn from, the author suggests we live a life full of regrets, and failing to study them in-depth is a major life blunder. Perhaps my disconnect is that I consider my "regrets" as poignant life choices that I will likely remember all my life. Oh, I have other decisions I may second-guess, but these I reconcile fairly quickly and they pass into history. I think it is healthy to recognize both but to have only a handful of true regrets so past events do not weigh us down.
Managing True Regrets
In either case, best to recognize those true regrets, manage them, and tuck them away. So what do I mean by "manage them?"
I suggest a 3 step method:
Consider some exploratory tools: to dig a bit deeper, try mind mapping or journaling. Mind mapping involves writing down your regret on a blank sheet of paper and drawing lines and circles from the center of items you recall about that subject. Mind mapping often helps alleviate the structure and anxiety around such reflection and lets thoughts free flow. Journaling can have the same effect as it offers a private, confidential place to get your thoughts out of your brain and onto paper to recognize and resolve. Having an open, honest conversation with a partner, confidante, or therapist can also be a great tool for exploring regrets. About five years ago, I began jotting down a variety of life moments - some regrets, some happy occasions - that I just wanted to capture for posterity. That eventually became my memoir, In Search of Courage. What I loved most about the process is that I allowed myself to reflect on life events from childhood to the present. With the benefit of some added maturity and wisdom since the events, along with my acquired taste for vulnerability and personal healing, I remembered some events I had long forgotten. Actually, many of the events had just slid into my subconscious but I believe they were still affecting my life because I'd never really recognized or resolved those choices. Writing my memoir, most of all, was very therapeutic. I would highly recommend such an exercise. Whether you ever choose to share it with another soul, it can lift a weight off your shoulders and change your life.
Recognize your regret: identifying those true regrets is healthy. Seek to understand the core source of the regret. It may not be that you regret an embarrassing moment. Instead, perhaps you regret a decision that led to that embarrassment or maybe you regret not having the strength to stand tall and not be embarrassed by a bold statement to begin with.
Extract learnings: once you have explored and identified specific regrets, don't leave them to fester for more years or decades. Find the learnings. Based on the true regret, what have you learned? What will you do differently? Would you like to make amends to someone you may have hurt through those actions in the past? Once you feel like you have taken some positive steps from the event, it is much easier to move on. Until you do that, the burden of such choices may continue to hold you back from your true potential and life happiness.
Doing this work can be quick or can take some time - days, weeks, months. The longer it takes, I believe, the more important it is to do this work, and the greater freedom you will feel once you have completed the process.
My Life Regrets
As I mentioned, I've explored my true regrets through my memoir and share them along with my associated learnings as examples of how you too can find strength in your own regrets.
Grandma's Pie: When I was about 15, one of my grandmothers came to live with us as dementia was making it impossible for her to live alone. One day after school, overcome by my lifelong challenge with overindulgence in sweets, I ate the remaining half of the chocolate pie in the 'fridge. When my parents came home that night, they asked if I had eaten it all. I emphatically lied, "no." They then went on to accuse my grandmother. She said "no" as well but I suppose her compromised state led my folks to conclude she had finished the pie. I stood in the kitchen idly letting her take the fall. I only recalled this situation about 35 years later, but I remembered it so vividly I knew this was a poignant moment. My grandmother and parents are gone now, but I've always had a strong affinity for the truth and disdain for others who lie or don't take accountability, which I believe stems from this occasion.
Silence is Not Golden: For most of my adult life my dad and I maintained a very superficial relationship. We loved each other but we rarely confided in each other, delved into depth, or problem-solved together. That was particularly unfortunate since I've come to know my dad after his death as an introvert like me. We were both shy, quite introspective, preferred our hobbies to social times, and succumbed to our own anxieties time after time. I think we both would have benefited from nurturing a more open relationship. We could have helped each other travel through the Five Phases of Introversion together to find Contentness and even Flourish at much earlier points in our life. Like many introverts, I felt alone with my own thoughts for my childhood and much of my adult life. I regret I didn't make the bold step to raise our similar dispositions and chart a more productive partnership together. Dad passed in 2013, but I am trying to share my innermost thoughts and anxieties with my wife and to raise these items with my kids. Neither is easy as I naturally prefer to sort out my issues myself and my adult kids are not always anxious to delve into deep conversations, but I won't give up. I don't want to regret missing those teaching moments and I don't want my kids to regret missing a more substantive relationship with their dad once I'm gone.
My Tongue Almost Fell Off: Throughout my life, I've often bit my tongue and opted not to speak in meetings or social gatherings. I was anxious and frankly scared of putting myself out there, being vulnerable, and possibly making mistakes. It is a lot easier to be quiet in the background. This regret doesn't revolve around one particular moment but dozens of moments, especially over my 30 years in corporate America. But over time, I learned about my value and strengths and became determined to speak up, to share my contributions, and to be courageous. This doesn't mean I'm the most talkative or opinionated person in the crowd. I choose to pick my moments. I try to sneak a peek into the future to see if I might regret being silent or not. If it's really not an important topic, I often preserve my energy for another time. But if I feel like my contributions are important, I will muster the courage to share my thoughts. I may choose not to do so within a large melee of people, but instead to lean on my introverted talents and approach the issue with preparation in a small group setting. Either way, I'm striving to get my voice out there when I feel compelled to do so.
Mine, Not Yours: Throughout my 30-year career, I felt compelled to wear a mask rather than reveal my true self to my managers, co-workers, and staff. I believe many introverts do the same, especially in an extroverted culture that dominates many western businesses. However, what I realized at my retirement party was that no one I'd worked with, traveled with, or had gone to battle with over those three decades really knew who I was. The room went silent when I announced I was going to write a book about my introversion. I guess I'd pulled off the caper, but I'd lost my true self and failed to create any meaningful relations in the process. More importantly, what I soon realized was that I failed to use my leadership pulpit to champion the cause of introversion within my workplace. I could have helped change the culture, not just for my own benefit but for others in the 'hidden half!' And I could have stood as a mentor for other introverts who may have needed a helping hand every once in a while. After I retired, I lamented such missed opportunities but I've since realized that my website, blog, podcasts, and books are my new chance to advocate for others.
We may not be able to fix some of our regrets of the past, but we can certainly make amends by recognizing them, learning from them, and finding the opportunities to practice our new approach now and into the future.
Best of luck on your own journey. Please email me if I can help in any way.
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Introversion often feels so alone and many of us assume no one else could feel this way. This book contains many of the questions that have been asked, often by introverts trying to understand this personality trait that can at times govern our lives.
Hi Steve! I just wanted to say I'm incredibly thankful that I came across your blog. I currently have your [Q&A] booklet up on my work computer and every single line resonates with me. I've struggled my entire life with introversion, but your guide is helping me realize that I need to embrace it instead of feeling embarrassed! Anyways, your content is awesome and I'm planning on sharing some info with my team. -GK 2/8/2022
I also hear from many introverts struggling to share their introversion with family, friends, and co-workers, either out of fear or just not having the words. I hope this booklet may serve to educate others to better understand the many strengths and talents we have to share.
I hope you will find this booklet an informative read and reference book with a splash of light-heartedness and inspiration as well. I invite you to start with the questions you are most curious about and share from there.
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