Kristyn Filip | Fulcrum Staff

LAST WEEK, WHILE in line at Tim Hortons, I was standing behind a young woman with a rather large tattoo. The words “Live life with no regrets,” written in a script and nestled amongst pink and purple shooting stars, were stretched across her back in what I can only assume would translate to size 72 font. A few hours later, while crossing the street at Laurier and Russell Avenue, I happened upon another inked stranger, this one whose shoulder read “Never regret something that once made you smile.” Later, I logged onto Facebook and counted no less than eight friends who had recently uploaded photos with captions endorsing a life without regrets. On Twitter, the trend continues: #YOLO—or “you only live once,” for those who have yet to emerge from under the proverbial rock—became so popular so quickly that it’s now universally panned and parodied. This recurring theme in our body art and social media—both important forms of self-expression for the early 20-something—begs the question: what does our generation have against regrets?

In 2011, Kathryn Schulz, American journalist and author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, gave a TED Talk about the psychology of regret, in which she says those who “drink the great cultural Kool-Aid about regret” believe there is no activity more pointless and unproductive than despairing the past. What’s done is done, and if it can’t be undone, then why torture yourself thinking about it? The trouble with this philosophy, Schulz says, is that if we do not acknowledge our regrets, we deny ourselves the chance “to learn to love the flawed, imperfect things that we create, and to forgive ourselves for creating them,” because “regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly—it reminds us that we know we can do better.”

Thinking about the mistakes I made during the four years of my undergraduate degree is an exercise in humility, sure, but true to Schulz’s words, I realize that if I refused to own up to those actions—or inactions, perhaps more accurately—I would never know I could do better. When I decided to simply stop making payments on my student line of credit because I’d rather spend the little money I had elsewhere, my parents received an angry letter from Scotiabank threatening legal action against us. Do I regret putting my mom and dad’s financial standing—not to mention their mental health—at risk? Of course. Have I ever missed a payment again? Not once. After all, YOLO, and I’d rather not spend the one life I get plagued by a dismal credit rating and a justifiably furious mother and father.

I’ve made some pretty big mistakes in the academic department, too. I decided to minor in French as a second language, believing as I do that fluency in both our national languages should be a goal of every Canadian, yet I was too terrified to ever participate in French class. I was embarrassed by my horrific accent, I constantly struggled with vocabulary, and I can’t roll my Rs to save my life, so instead of forcing myself to practice, I zipped my lips and barely spoke a word. I somehow managed to survive the four years of French classes and now I have a degree that essentially deems me bilingual, but no real fluency in the language to speak of. Not opening my mouth in French class or taking advantage of the professors I paid to teach me was a monstrous mistake—one I pay for every single time others around me parlent en français and I simply can’t keep up. What have I done to rectify the regret? I now speak the language as often as I can with anyone and everyone who will give me the time of day. Does this change the fact that I screwed up for four long years? Not at all, but acknowledging the regret made me determined to never again spend another 48 months faking my way through anything.

Perhaps generational dislike for regret boils down to responsibility—and our knee-jerk response to shirk it. Anyone with a sibling will agree the best way to avoid punishment for a wrongdoing is to blame it on someone else. As we age, our mistakes aren’t as minor or as easily displaced as they were in childhood—what was once a broken dinner plate, a defenseless younger sibling, and an angry parent has become a night of excessive drinking and no one but ourselves to blame or answer to. Rather than acknowledge the flame of self-loathing burning in the pit of our stomachs, we throw our hands in the air and loudly exclaim, “No regrets!”, thereby effectively removing our guilt—but also our opportunity for personal growth.

So instead of futilely attempting to convince yourself and those around you that you live a life with no regrets, consider owning up to your mistakes and doing whatever you can to never make them again. Hold yourself accountable. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.