Missed Opportunities, Regrets and Making the Right Choices in Life

Updated on April 26, 2019
willvanderberg profile image

Will is a curious writer, always looking to expand and share his knowledge on more subjects than he can keep track of.

Life throws you a curveball. Just like that. How do you respond? What is the right thing to do? Did you make the right decision? Do you sometimes wonder how things could have turned out if you’d just…? This article is for you (and me)!

Moving houses is always a good excuse for me to check my bookshelf and toss out the books I no longer value. Afterall, those moving boxes always end up being too heavy and why should I break my back over books I have no intention of ever reading again?

Somehow Inner Excellence by Jim Murphy managed to survive three moves and was yet again sitting on my bookshelf seven years later! Thinking the other day that its time had finally come, I picked it up and started flicking through its pages to make my final determination. That’s when I stumbled upon this little jewel:

People make the best choices available to them. Any behaviour, no matter how strange or screwed up, was the best choice available to him or her at that moment in time (given that person’s life history, knowledge, beliefs, and resources, and viewed from his or her frame of reference).

— Jim Murphy (Inner Excellence)

It is one of the presuppositions the books asks you to keep in mind as you go through the book. Whether they are absolutely true or not doesn’t matter according to the author: it only matters that they are beliefs held by extraordinarily successfull people, and modeling them will help you achieve your goals and dreams.

Well, wow. Just wow! I have actually made this my life motto all those years ago as it resonated (and still does) very strongly with me. I have wondered for a long time where I had picked it up. I would never have guessed that I read it here, in this long forgotten book.

Regrets and missed opportunities

Back in those confusing hormones-raging teen years and early twenties most of my regrets revolved around missed opportunities with girls & women. The situations I found myself in never seemed to have an obvious answer:

  • I had a losing-our-virginity-together-proposal back when I was young enough to be struggling with the whole boys-and-girls-really-are-different-phase… Scared, intrigued and aroused makes for a weird combination!
  • We are good friends, yet this fun night out together seems to have turned out to be more like a date. Is it? Is she giving off incredibly subtle signs or am I imagining them? Should I go for it? Does she want me to? And do I want to, running the risk of ruining the friendship for good?
  • Wait… what? Did she really just make such obvious advances at me? Is she really interested or is it the holiday setting and/or the alcohol? Does that even matter? Have I always been somewhat interested in her but figured I never had a shot or is my interest in her only based on her supposed sudden interest in me?

Needless to say the actual outcomes were never quite worthy of a Hollywood movie adaptation…

Broken record

As a result, I used to replay those events over and over in my head like a broken record. Whole scenarios with vastly different outcomes. Should I have made a move when I didn’t? Was it worth it when I did? Was doing nothing actually the right call? If I had done things differently would I have been more successful when I did take action but stuffed up? Where would it have gone from there? What would my life look like today if I had? Would it have made any difference at all?

Or in other words: did I make the wrong decision, take the wrong action? You could simply argue that it doesn’t matter as you cannot change the past. Fair enough. But I wanted to learn from my mistakes and avoid them in the future. Therefore I needed to figure out what my mistakes were, if any, and what the lessons were that I could draw from them.

Or so I had convinced myself.

What I was actually doing was 100% insecurity, self-doubt, fear. I was afraid of ending up alone. Instead of trusting that I would meet the right woman at some point in the future I really struggled with myself thinking that because of who I was and what I did I never would. I was responsible. It was all my fault.


That lightbulb moment

When I finally came across the presupposition in Inner Excellence it was like an extremely bright lightbulb switching on in my head. I instantly saw the truth in that statement, became aware of what I was doing and how it wasn’t helping me one bit.

If people always make the best choices available to them at that moment in time, then I always made the best choices I was capable of.

That rang completely true to me and I felt enormously relieved. Mind you, it obviously doesn’t always lead to a favourable outcome and many times I will have to live with the consequences (or dare I say, fallout). But I can live with that, for once that really is just life. The big difference I suppose is in the amount of control & responsibility I mistakingly thought I had (or should have) over any given situation. I used to believe that it was all me, so an undesirable outcome was all on me as well. But it isn’t and it never was.

  • My friend eventually hooked up with my best friend. Her virginity proposal was off the table and ended my extremely awkward deer in headlights situation. I wanted to, but I simply wasn’t ready. I was really happy for them though, as they were really happy together and we were all friends. Their relationship actually lasted for many years.
  • Her incredibly subtle signs ended up being too subtle for me that night. I did not make a move. She always remained an enigma for me. I could never figure out if she wanted more or not and eventually it hurt our friendship anyway and we lost touch.
  • She really was making advances at me. She just wasn’t too particular! When I didn’t bite immediately I lost my shot and someone else ended up lucky that night.

I always made the best decision I was capable of at that time and everything else is history. There will never be completely identical situations in the future, nor will I be exactly the same person as I was. I will never be in exactly the same state of mind either. I will however always make the best decision I am capable of at that moment. It simply can’t happen any other way.

This goes for you as well. For everyone. Mind you, it does not mean that we should not aim to be better and improve ourselves. It merely means that at any particular moment, we are all just doing the best we can.


Now let’s approach the same thing from a slightly different angle. What if someone has wronged you, how would you feel about that person? Could be something as simple as someone cuting you off on the freeway. My first response would not be good, I can tell you that! That one little action would instantly be translated in my head into an unredeemable, and frankly just bad person. But remember, they are governed by the same rule. They too made the best choice available to them at the time, as hard to believe as it sometimes is.

Ask yourself, are they really a bad person beyond redemption? Was it personal, were they really out to get you? Could it simply have been a mistake, like an instinctive move due to a distraction (or to avoid an accident caused by someone or something else) which resulted in you getting cut off? Maybe they just got some really bad news and -right or wrong- are a little distracted and not paying as much attention to the road as they normally would.

Even if you actually were deliberately cut off, could it be that they were just having a shitty day and you happened to be the unfortunate soul who wondered by at exactly the wrong moment? Haven’t we all done that? Or maybe he or she really is a poor driver, they really should do something about that… but at that exact moment that person is doing the best they can.

Something to think about? Forgive yourself, forgive others. We are all just doing the best we can.

I think I will keep my copy of Inner Excellence on the bookshelf for just a little while longer!


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    • willvanderberg profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago

      You are not wrong, but yours is a very rational point of view. Regret is like fear: you may rationally understand that the fear is irrational, but that realisation itself (although definitely a necessary first step) does not stop the current or future occurrence of fear. It won't stop you from feeling the fear. For that to happen the realisation needs to happen in the subconcious part of you, i.e. before it has already escalated into the sensation of fear (or in this case, regret).

      In my personal experience something needs to really 'click' inside of you. You need this aha! moment, experienced with all your senses. That moment when it all makes sense, you 'get it'. Potentially life changing stuff. It requires a very specific and very personal set of circumstances for that to happen. In my case it happened twice when I read this presupposition in Inner Experience.

      It would be a huge honor for me if this article would have the same effect on someone reading this, even just one.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      2 years ago from USA

      I wouldn't overthink the situation and turn it into a coulda woulda mighta hada been. You have to move forward.


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