I had not watched many TED Talks recently, but given large swaths of not having internet in Australia (once again, no thanks to Optus for screwing me out of my money and my data plan). I watched a few episodes on the bus/plane/internet-less hotels on my iPad.

Now I know some people dismiss TED as being exclusive and some in gang thing, you know, its just about the Shiny People inside the Velvet Rope. Not Us.

The problem with that for me is that I really like and learn a lot from many of these. In fact, I have a back log of blog posts now generated just by the handful of talks I just saw. And this blanket judging of something like a body of work to me is wrong, and resonates some with the way Dave Cormier spoke about criticisms of his rhizomatic approach, and part of that I learned is being open to seeing value everywhere, and not respecting the diversity of systems (well, I think I made up that conclusion).

And… (eventually I will get to the topic of the post) the point is with this, and all things blogged or even tweeted, its not worth that much to say “Great video” or just pass the URL. The way this ecosystem grows is by adding value, or context to these things we cread/engorge from the internet. It means reflecting on it, and … well again more that “great talk”.

So I just heard this great TED Talk 😉

I listened to it three times. This talk by Kathyrn Schulz is especially relevant on a personal side for dealing with regret of some things I have done iver the last months, and every message she spoke rang true to my soul. It was shared by someone who knew what I was going through, and I only wish I had watched it earlier.

Watch now! Watch now!

First, I have no idea who Kathyrn Schulz is (to be googled when I get back online – okay she is author of “Being Wrong- adventures in the margin of error”) except she did refer o herself as a writer. Her delivery is real, authentic, and while likely rehearsed, feels genuine, like she is talking to a friend, not an audience. Like she is talking to me. Her talk is framed around her own regrets on getting a tattoo but it goes much farther than that.

The first thing she does is dash this noble notion that we should try to live “in the now” and not have regrets.

Lamenting things that have occurred in the past is an absolute waste of time, that we should always look forward and not backward, and one of the noblest best things we can do is to live a life free of regrets… But the inability to experience regret is one of the diagnostic characteristics of sociopaths. It’s also characteristic of people who have certain forms of brain damage.

She outlines four components of regret:

1. Denial “Make it go away” (distance ourselves from the causes of the action)
2. Bewilderment “How could I have done that?” (alienation of the part of us that made the decision that caused the regret)
3. Punishment “I could kick myself”
4. Perseveration repeat all the cycles of 1-3

But Schulz goes on to a fifth one. It is a kind of existential wake up call. It is a painful experience.

And it is especially relevant now that we are in a “Control-Z” culture that we can “undo” things, that we can avoid facing the reality of difficult events.

But sometimes in life we don’t have control-Z we have zero control

How are we supposed to live with this. Three things we can do she suggests.

1. Take some comfort in its universality (for her case, googling “regret” and “tottoo” yields 11.5 million hits. “We are all in this together”
2. Laugh at ourselves. “It might seem like a cruel or glib suggestion when it comes to more profund regrets. I don’t think that’s the case, though. All of who have experienced regret that contains real pain, and real grief understand that humor, and even black humor, plays crucial role in how we survive. It connects the poles of our lives back together, the positive and the negative and it sends a little current of life back into us”.
3. Passage of time.

“Do you want to see the tattoo?”

Of course we do. She warns us that we will be disappointed, “It’s not that hideous. Other people like it. It’s just that I don’t like how it looks.

(shows her tatto) And here we get to her brilliance of her own example and how she universalizes it.

I can guess what some of you are thinking. So let me re-assure you about something- some of your own regrets are not as ugly as you think they are.

Most important lesson that regret can teach us.

Here’s the thing. If we have goals… and dreams and we want to do our best, and if we love people and we don;t want to hurt them or lose them, we *should* feel pain when things go wrong. The point isn’t to live without any regrets, the point is to not hate ourselves for having them. The lesson I ultimately learned from my tatto and I want to leave you with today is this- we need to learn to love the flawed imperfect things we create and to forgive ourselves for creating them. Regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly; it reminds us that we know we can do better.

I think I am going to watch this one again. And I am going to try to not hate myself for this nagging regret.

UPDATE (Dec 14, 2011) Stephen Downes suggests (and as usual is right) that there is a wide range of writings, speakings on this same subject from less mainstream sources- check them out (I am) at http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=56818

If this kind of stuff has value, please support me by tossing a one time PayPal kibble or monthly on Patreon
Become a patron at Patreon!
Profile Picture for CogDog The Blog
An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as @cogdog@cosocial.ca


  1. awesome post. I will definitely watch the video.

    Regret seems to me to be in close cahoots with two other mental pitfalls: guilt and perfectionism.

    Learning to accept the “flaws” of my life (and myself) has become a constant process. Professionals have helped me realize that’s its really about learning to be mindful and aware of your regrets, rather than beating yourself up with guilt (which is a road that leads nowhere) or frustration at missing the “perfect” mark (which is a road that doesn’t exist).

    Another important life lesson that’s gone hand in hand with this: allow yourself to feel pity for yourself sometimes. NOT because other people don’t hurt, but because until you acknowledge that YOU hurt, it’s almost impossible to feel true empathy for others.

  2. What is really cool for me is that I just watched this in the car as Don drove us to Orlando today! Knowing you watched this recently makes me feel like we watched it together! 🙂 It also had a big impact on me too! I thought she was a dynamic speaker and enjoyed this talk.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *