If you had a second chance, what would you change, if anything?
As a journalist, I have asked thousands of people who have lived long enough to have something to regret if they do, in fact, have a remorse they could share with the world.
When I pose this routine question I am not looking for an admission of a colossal failure nor do I expect a dramatic self-flagellation, but curious as I am in the power of hindsight, I count on candor.
The answer I hear most often—sometimes subtle, sometimes as categorical as Edith Piaf’s signature song – is: “Not really, I regret nothing.”
The few who mention the ghost of remorse here and there, usually frame their actions in the had-I-not-made-this-mistake-I-would-not-be-who-I- am-today spin.
After many years of feeling lied to and seeing no purpose in continuing to probe the unprobable, I stopped asking the question.
Simply put, I started regretting being complicit in the creation of a regretless world.
It turns out Kevin Hansen knew better than I that everyone has a regret.
Rather than asking people to share their “I am sorrys” on the record as a journalist would, Hansen, a successful marketing VP at Hellman, the Waterloo-based advertising agency named after its founder, took a different approach.
What is your biggest regret?
Post your thoughts on www.secretregrets.com
At his site, Secretregrets.com, he took the stigma out of regret by allowing guilt-ridden storytellers to share their secrets with the world anonymously.
By removing the who-did-it from the act, Hansen created a safe space where people can toss overboard their extra baggage – a retaliatory love affair, a no-way out divorce, a self-destructive addiction or a haunting memory of saying a rude word to a handicapped classmate.
And while regrets small and big are equally painful for the person who has the consciousness to feel them, Hansen eventually decided to undertake the daunting task of combing through 10,000 stories to present a chicken soup version of regrets.
“It was emotionally exhausting,” he says describing the process. “I wanted to treat each regret with respect. That’s why the project took three years.”
The final product, a hard copy available at $15.97 locally at University Book and Supply and at Hawkeye Community College, reached #3 in Amazon’s motivational category and its electronic version, downloadable at $9.99, skyrocketed to #1 as Amazon’s bestselling Kindle book in interpersonal relations, counseling and crisis management.
It seems likely that the book may soon end up on Dr. Phil’s reading list – one of the show’s producers has expressed interest in devoting a future program to its findings, according to a posting on the site.
In “Secret Regrets: What if you had a Second Chance?” Hansen presents 300 stories, each followed by a couple of responses from anonymous commentators, who offer constructive feedback and, not surprisingly, oftentimes liberated and emboldened by the courage of the writer, share a similar story of their own.
When you read Hansen’s book, you will get a better sense of why regret often keeps humans hostage.
What’s so demoralizing about it is that it locks us in the past. Since we cannot wind the clock back and change bygones, regret seems fated to gnaw us to the grave.
But its spell is broken by confession, it seems, the only pill from the pangs of remorse.
You can find the right dose and you don’t have to read between the lines to grasp the healing power of the book’s candid narratives.
One of the most gripping stories Hansen shared with me during a recent interview at University Book and Supply is that of a girl who, last Christmas, regretted she could not tell her friend she had decided to end her own life.
After finding the courage to post her regret on Hansen’s site, she was stunned by the response she received from strangers, including assurances that her life matters and heartfelt encouragement urging her to seek help.
On New Year’s Day, to everyone’s relief, the girl posted a brief message: "I’m here."
Stories like this one are rare, Hansen says, but he finds it rewarding that the forum he has created both inspires and empowers people in some of the darkest moments of their lives.
“We have a lot of work left to do, a lot of people left to help,” he says.
Inevitably, in an interview like this, the question of Hansen’s own secret regrets came up.
He said he had two.
The one he shared on the record is this:
“I really regret waiting,” he says. “I have a very successful career in marketing, but I have always had a heart and a passion to help people, but never really found the avenue to do so in any meaningful way. I am not really sure if I found this project or this project found me.”
Hansen’s second regret?
It’s a secret, he told me, but as I read the book, I kept wondering if it mirrors mine.
EDITOR'S PICK FROM BOOK, SECRET REGRETS:
HERE IS MY PICK, posted on Nov. 22 and the
response to it.
“I regret being so easily influenced, young and stupid, Maybe if I wasn't, I would of never broken our vows that day. Sometimes, I want to regret you going to Iraq, but that was your job and all I can truly regret was being selfish and broken. I regret not appreciating you, not knowing the true meaning of love and commitment of marriage. I knew with the birth of my child, this will also mean the end of our marriage. Though I could and never would regret her, I regret that she is not a part of you and me. I regret that I could not be or give you everything you deserve to have now. A family, marriage and love. I regret that fact that I may never have a chance to be with you again. Now I live my life happy for my daughter but always wondering what if?
COMMENT: Anonymous said…
You make all our devoted spouses look bad. Its not just your commitment to your husband, but your lack of devotion during a war. Nothing angers me more then military spouses that are unfaithful. A man deployed should not have to worry about whether or not his wife is running around behind his back. He should feel loved and supported. A military wife should have a deep devotion to her husband and her country. He volunteered his life for us and you couldn't refrain for 12 to 15 months?
I am sorry if this sounds harsh, I have been through 3 deployments with my husband. He was shot at and the line went dead on my birthday, he has missed almost all of our special days, 2 Christmas's. I know that he was always thankful that I was the one thing he never had to worry about. I was thankful to be there for him. He told me about the horror stories of the other men and my heart broke for him.
Now I wonder if you where one of those stories. Let go of your what if's…
I know you can never regret a child- it's a beautiful gift, I hope that she grows up beautiful and stronger than you were. I hope she excels in everything life throws at her. I hope that you find someone and let go of this regret, it is over and done. I hope you find someone with a less demanding job that can devote himself to you, and you can learn from it.
I wish you the best, and I hope your ex finds the devoted, strong and loving woman that he needs.
They are out there.”