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Path of Least Regret

20 Aug 2014

I’m a sucker for catchy mottoes: “Work Hard, Play Hard”, “Go Big or Go Home”, “YOLO”. If you’re going to have a guiding life principle, why not let it roll off the tongue?

Along the same lines, I’ve begun to live by a mantra of my own: “Path of Least Regret”. I know, it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but what it means is this: when you’re at a crossroad debating which choice to make, choose the one you’ll regret the least in the future, even if it goes bad. The one that would result in fewer “what if”s and “if only”s. Where when you look back, you’ll think yes, I’m glad I chose that.

Thinking under that mindset has not only helped me make some hard decisions, but it has also allowed me to experience things I wouldn’t have otherwise.

A silly example is when I tried salsa classes while studying abroad. Right away the language barrier and my poor coordination got the best of me. I stumbled in leading and getting the steps right. Every time we rotated, I could see my new partner masking a look of annoyance at having to dance with me.

The class severely bruised my ego. It took everything within me to not quit. What got me through it was remembering why I took it in the first place. I’ve wanted to learn salsa for the longest time. In part, to impress ladies back home. Sure, currently people were annoyed with me, but I wasn’t doing it for them. I was doing it to invest in my future self. If I didn’t learn salsa now just because it was hard, wouldn’t future-me be mad at present-me? Wouldn’t I regret that decision? The opportunity to learn from authentic Spanish dancers doesn’t come every day. Besides, I wouldn’t see these people again after a couple short months, so did it even actually matter if they despised my dancing?

With that mentality, I stopped myself from quitting every time I thought about it. I kept going with the class and as I got better, the contempt my partners held for me dissipated. My ego recovered and I had learned the basics of something I’d wanted. Everyone lived happily ever after.

Often we forgo experiences because of the initial discomfort — that bashing of our confidence from not knowing what we’re doing. There will certainly be uneasiness to start as we struggle through the unknown. Sucking, as the name implies, sucks.

In contrast, we could just continue old habits and not break the mold. Avoid all the pain by doing what’s easier and familiar. But if you think about future-you’s desires, wouldn’t he or she want to have learned that new skill? To have tried that thing they hadn’t before? Would future-you think “if only I didn’t try that”, or is it more likely they’d think “if only I did”.

Unfortunately, just wanting something enough doesn’t make it happen. Present-you has to take action towards that, even if it’s unpleasant at the beginning. So next time you’re considering your options, I say screw the path of least resistance. Take the path of least regret.


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