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Your search for the gifts of your regrets will follow the same process you used in searching for lessons. Gifts are so closely allied with lessons that they are often indistinguishable. The difference between the two doesnt matter as long as the gift is recognized in one category or the other. Some gifts are direct, such as discovering how much someone loved you after she died. Others are indirect, as when a job termination leads to a new and more satisfying career.
Some of your gifts may have appeared almost simultaneously with the regret, while others may have come slowly over time. Some gifts are cumulative in nature and difficult to recognize because they are incremental. Your confidant and friends can help you recognize these gifts because of their greater objectivity and their long-term perspective on you and your regrets.
The following examples of gifts will help you get started on your list.
I discovered an inner strength I never knew I had.
I found out what it was like to be loved.
I grew up after the tragedy. I needed to grow up, to accept responsibility, so that part of it, anyway, turned out to be a good thing.
I discovered that I was courageous. I had never known that before.
I learned to love as a result of it, really to love.
It forced me into recovery from my drug addiction.
I renewed my faith, and I found a richer, deeper relationship with God.
I discovered that I had something to offer other people.
It changed me. I became a better person. Im more willing to listen. Im more compassionate, less quick to judge.
I never took another day or another person for granted after that.
STEP SIX: IDENTIFYING LESSONS AND GIFTS 135
I knew I had to give up my rage. It was destroying me and the people I
loved. I went into therapy.
It redirected me toward service to others and away from a preoccupation with myself.
I developed a passion for life that I had never had before.
Benefits that compensate to some degree for the inevitable losses of life constitute a special category of gifts worth identifying. In one sense, all the gifts of our regrets compensate us in some way. The compensation may not be sufficient in our view to make up for the losses of the regret, but it is compensation nonetheless, and its recognition makes it easier to let go of that regret. What makes the compensating gifts of inevitable losses particularly interesting is that they are built into the source of the regret. Juan and Lucinda, for example, suffered an inevitable loss when their twin girls left for college. It was a painful experience for the two parents but necessary if their daughters were to reap the benefits of a college education. Those benefits were a compensating gift. Other gifts included having more time for other interests (Lucinda went back to work, for example), more time to spend together in the evenings, and an atmosphere around the house that was a bit more serene. The girls growing maturity was also a welcome change. Having their children leave home was an inevitable loss of the passage of time. Had the parents bemoaned the loss of their children without searching for the compensating gifts, the pain of the inevitable loss they regretted would have been much greater.
In the same way, people leaving middle age may not like the loss of youthful energy, but the potential compensating gifts include greater wisdom and competence. These gifts can be welcomed and savored, or they can be ignored and rejected by focusing on what was lost rather than on what was gained. Toward the end of life, of course, inevitable losses grow more severe, and the gifts grow more spiritual and sometimes more difficult to accept and understand. Even so, regretting, as opposed to accepting, is unproductive. It is easier to accept the things we like than to accept the things we dont like, but acceptance is fundamentally a spiritual and psychological process that allows us to transcend events in our environment. Acceptance is a state we create within ourselves that
allows us to make peace with external factors, regardless of whether we like them.
A special Action List has been included to help you structure your search for gifts. For each regret, describe all the gifts that come to mind in each of the eight categories, but dont worry about distinctions among the categories. Compensating gifts may fit into more than one category.
Action List: Step Six
Gifts ofthe Road I Took
5. Psychological gifts
6. Spiritual gifts
7. Other gifts
8. Potential gifts
Complete this Action List for each regret in accordance with the following guidelines:
1. People: Describe the loves of your life that came out of your regret, whether romantic loves, good friendships, or deepened existing friendships. These are the people you met or who became more important to you as a result of your regret. They may have inspired you, counseled you, or supported you at critical times or on a continuing basis. In each case, they offered you the priceless gifts of being loved and having someone to love. Who are these people, and what individual gifts did they bring you?