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Take some time off and have fun.
With the hard work of Step Five and the new freedom it has brought, you can now examine your regrets from a different, and more favorable, perspective. Despite all the pain, fear, and guilt of your regrets, they have also brought you lessons and gifts. In Step Six, you will explore the hidden and not-so-hidden contributions to your life that came from the regrets you harbor.
Step Six: Identifying Lessons and Gifts
In step six, we examine our regrets from a different perspective, one that explores the good that came out of them rather than the bad. Having spent the first five steps looking at the pain of our regrets and the extent of our accountability in creating them, we now consider the possibility that our regrets have benefited us. But how? By teaching us lessons and offering us gifts of great value.
The idea that our regrets have taught us lessons may not be as foreign as the idea that our regrets have brought us gifts. “I learned my lesson, but it was too expensive, and I got no gifts,” Rory complained. Jay took a different approach to arrive at the same conclusion: “It wasn’t my fault, so I don’t see what I could have learned. As far as gifts, forget it.” We may not like the idea that our regrets have lessons and gifts to offer, but they inevitably do. We may have to search to find them, however, and we will need to do so with an open mind.
Every road taken, like every road not taken, is filled with potential regrets. But every regret is filled with potential lessons and gifts. It is always that way. The lessons of the road we took may be easier to see than the gifts, but they are no more important. Great gifts are offered through our regrets. They are difficult to see, however, if we are stuck in resentments, blaming, anger, or self-pity.
It will be easier to let go of our regrets if we are willing to accept the
lessons and the gifts they offer us. If we perceive that our regrets have served a useful purpose by teaching us something that we needed to learn or by bringing us something that we needed to experience, they will be less regrettable. They will have redeeming value for us.
The distinction between a lesson and a gift isn’t crucial for purposes of this step. In general, a lesson is something we have learned from past events that we can apply to similar events in the future. Rosa’s sheltered upbringing led her to be overly trusting and overly dependent on those with whom she dealt, especially if they were nice to her and seemed supportive. This na?vet? cost her dearly after a series of financial mistakes based on misplaced trust. For example, she gave her social security number to a telephone solicitor she didn’t know, and he used the number to steal her identity. After the theft, it took several years to straighten out her credit.
Rosa also failed to read the terms of her car loan, taking her salesperson’s word for the nature of its terms, only to discover later that the interest rate was higher than she had been promised. She also lost most of the proceeds from the sale of her home through an ill-fated investment she failed to check out. She met the person who misinvested her money at a party for prominent people and assumed that he must be honest. This series of mistakes devastated her finances and left her angry. But they were only part of a much larger regret: not being properly prepared to deal with “the real world,” as she put it. Rosa’s regrets taught her valuable lessons that would protect her in the future, leading her to take greater responsibility for her life, especially her financial life. At the same time, she had to learn to strike a balance between being unduly naive and unduly cynical.
The gifts that come from regrets are not so much specific lessons applicable to the future as they are whole new perspectives on life, greater wisdom, or a more meaningful set of goals. Gifts may also take the form of people who came into our lives because of our regret. Gifts often meet psychological or spiritual needs that we didn’t know we had or that couldn’t be met through “normal” events.
When Enrique’s wife took the children, moved out of their house, and filed for divorce because of his drinking, he was furious. Shortly thereafter, he was fired from his job for the same reason, and he received a DUI,
STEP SIX: IDENTIFYING LESSONS AND GIFTS 129
which had the potential of keeping him from working again in his profession. These series of regrets—suddenly part of the larger regret of alcoholism—took him into treatment and then to Alcoholics Anonymous. In AA, he found sobriety and discovered a new way of life that was richer and more satisfying than anything he had experienced before or had even thought possible. When he was reunited with his family, his outlook had changed dramatically, and he refocused his life on a different set of values that proved to be profoundly rewarding. The gift of Enrique’s new life came out of his regrets.