Yesterday I wrote a short lament about the way sports consumes so much of our lives if we let it. That’s not a total regret. I’ve gained quite a bit from sports, including the aptitudes of perseverance when called upon, and patience too. Those were valuable skills during fifteen years of caregiving for my late mother, late wife and late father.
So it’s not exactly regret that we bring to the table when looking back at athletic endeavors. Many of us would like (or choose) to have a crack at life all over again. Perhaps do things differently. Or more things, anyway.
The fact remains: There’s only so much time to live and only so much carpe diem in all of us.
I’ve analyzed whether I could have done better in sports at certain points in life. Trouble is, that’s a fruitless exercise, pun intended. You either perform in the moment, or you don’t. There is no value in woulda-coulda-shoulda. The only regrets one can legitimately apply are those concerning the choice to hold back on a big performance because of circumstances. If you “take one for the team” and save energy for another event rather than running full steam in a race, then the regret of not blasting it that day is balanced by the character it take to be a good teammate. Life is often a balance between personal and team objectives. It’s true in work, family and the global community.
So those bittersweet regrets must be forgiven and forgotten. If you gave it your best shot as often as you could, you’re in good company. As the lyrics in the musical Hamilton suggest, giving it all in the moment is a highly respected trade:
I’m not giving away my shot…
Marty Liquori one wrote in his book at elite distance running that doing your best (as a runner, for example) when life and age and opportunity presents itself is no small commitment. That feeling of obsession to succeed is strong within many of us. Some work it out at an early age, while others find it later in life. “In the end,” Liquori said (and I paraphrase,) “If you do your best you won’t have to prove yourself at the family picnic.”
We don’t want to find ourselves in a cycle of perpetual regret like Uncle Rico in the movie Napolean Dynamite. Good old Rico was living so far in the past that unfolded glories haunted him every day. Yet even Rico seemed to find love at the end of the movie after so many vainglorious attempts at local success. Sometimes self-forgiveness arrives in the simple gleam of a pair of shining eyes. I hope he’s happy now.
This much I do know. Having stood at the starting line of races with thousands of other people and carving out wins was a challenging and exciting time. That was a once-in-a-lifetime period, and despite the realization that other things could have taken place if time were a parallel universe, I don’t feel there’s much to prove at the family picnic.
That does not mean I don’t still enjoy the feeling of training or participating in races occasionally to test myself in real time. Those actions are good for mental and physical health. I plan to continue that journey.
But if you’re haunted by regrets of any kind, reconcile yourself to them. It’s okay. None of us is perfect. All of us have fallen short. That makes the feeling of achievement all the more better when it comes around. And it will. Just keep trying.