In Marshall Goldsmiths new book, Triggers, he makes a prescient observation that “even the most indestructible leader has regrets”.
For those of you unfamiliar with Marshall, he is an eminent business educator, thinker and coach who has been very influential throughout his long and distinguished career.
That leaders have cause for regret is not an idle thought, as Marshall has coached more that 150 CEO’s.
Whilst it might be a prescient observation, it is just a starting point. Regret is a powerful emotion and one that we all recognise in a way that is personal to us. Hence what might be regret for you could be disappointment for someone else – but these are just different colours of thinking about things that may not have gone so well. So what can we learn from it?
- First and foremost, is that the past is the past. No one, not the most creative, inspirational, rich or successful person can go back and change the past. It is what it is. We can deal with the consequences of our decisions, actions or omissions but we cannot go back and redo what was done, differently.
- Secondly, we can inform the future. Whilst we didn’t do what we could have done last time, there will probably be a next time… we can make next time better. We can choose to react differently, we can choose to do things differently we can choose a different outcome. We can also choose to create a “next time”.
Regret doesn’t need to be negative. You’ll have heard the expression that “today is the first day of the rest of your life”. So that different thing that needed to happen? Well, today is the first day where you can start working towards making it happen. You may not even feel regret, but there are elements of ‘could have gone better’ for even the most outstanding performers.
Sometimes in coaching, we encourage people to look back and think about their past. This is often invaluable to the client as it informs about issues, concerns and indeed regrets that are holding them back. However, this is always done from a perspective of what this means for the future.
I personally encourage people to look forward, make plans and develop optimism about the road that lies ahead.
Gordon Ramsey had a promising career as a professional footballer ahead of him, but due to a serious knee injury this never materialised. Today, he is better known as a Michelin starred chef and TV personality. We can all regret the lack of ability that means we are never going to be a world class sportsperson, musician or author however success means finding what you can do and becoming world class at that.
Better to try and fail, knowing you tried, than to forever look back and torment yourself with “what could have been”.
Frenchwoman Edith Piaf famously sang a song “Non, Je ne regrette rien”. (No, I regret nothing). How many of us can say that?.
There will always be things that you regret in business and life, however, success means learning from them , looking forward and choosing a different outcome in the future (yes, we do have a choice). Going back to Marshall’s quote at the beginning, perhaps something to aspire to is that you took some calculated risks that didn’t pay off… you may regret taking the risk, but remember you will always regret not taking the risk either. Sometimes working with a coach will help you get a balanced perspective and may accelerate the learning opportunity. So maybe it is better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all?
Coming back to a theme you will note in the majority of my posts – success comes to those who do. Dreams are just dreams unless you put them into action. You may regret the disasters, but you rarely hear people say they regret the Ferrari parked in the garage. What would be a tragedy would be to look back and regret that you didn’t try, or even that you wished you had been more focused about learning the lessons sooner.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has 6 rules of success. Number 3 is “don’t be afraid to fail”, you must bear this in mind too. It might be a long road and you have a choice. Are you going to look forward to success, or forever have a pain in the neck from continually looking back at the past, ‘with regret’?
I know which one I prefer.