We always hear how, if we want to live a good life, a happy life, we should live without regrets. What that means varies from person to person. It could involve always acting on moments of desire, chasing the life of your dreams, or simply visiting the best bakery in every city you visit.
On the surface it makes sense. Regret is a sign that you did something that you felt was wrong, or didn’t do something that you felt was right. Sometimes that means outright failure. Other times it means failure through succeeding in a way you don’t agree with. Being happy is arguably nothing more than doing what you feel is right. So, traditional wisdom goes, always do what you think is right, have no regrets, and be happy. Simple. The problem being that actually living without regret is damn near impossible.
People make mistakes. It doesn’t matter how disciplined you are, how much talent you have, how much you prepare, how aware you are of the moment you are in; people make mistakes. Case in point: Lionel Messi, certified person. Sure, he may be one of the most exceptional persons on the planet — rich, skilled, famous, and hard-working to boot — but he is a person none the less.
If anyone could possibly live out their life without regret, surely it would be Messi. But, as it turns out, the most successful player of this past generation already knows what he will regret for the rest of his life: the 2014 World Cup Final.
"I don't know what to say, it's a pity," Messi said of the final in a recent interview. "I think we had the better chances in the [Final]. For the rest of our lives we'll regret having those chances, and not being able to put them in."
Those chances Messi talks about include Gonzolo Higuain’s goal that was called off because he was offside, this horrible excuse for chip shot by Rodrigo Palacio, and, of course, this miss by Lionel himself:
That was Lionel Messi, THE Lionel Messi, free onto goal, shooting with his preferred left foot, and missing the target. It does not take a psychologist to understand why he left that game with regrets. But there is no shame in regretting that miss.
The thing about regret is, it may be a failure, but failure is nothing but a side effect of your own willingness to truly test yourself. Yes, Messi failed on the biggest stage in the world, but he also made it there in the first place, and did not run away when the biggest game of his career came calling. He made that run, got himself in that position, and took the shot. He missed. He regrets it. The world keeps turning.
Living without regret is something worth striving for, but a lack of regret in your life is not always something to be proud of. Regrets show that you have goals, even if they may be ones you missed or will never reach. They teach you about yourself, show you what you really care about, in a way that few other things can. They can be a lesson to take advantage of.
If you regret something, then try that much harder to make sure you do better next time – if there is no next time, then stay vigilant for the next first time – you can bet your life that Messi has done exactly that every time he has stepped out onto a pitch since he missed that chance.
Ok, Messi did not have to feel regret for missing that shot in order to find out he cared about winning the World Cup, but few things in life are as straightforward as sports. For the things that are more complicated, we can use all the guidance we can get.
People are complicated, and sometimes, regret simply points us in the right direction.