Imagine you’re at a cocktail party where everyone there is a past version of yourself – each representing a distinct period of your life. The kid version playing video games; the teenager version watching music videos; the insecure college you trying to look smarter than you actually are; the exhausted you from your first job; the you from the first time you fell in love.
This sounds like fun but this would actually be quite boring as each version of you that you talk to, you know everything that they know, while they only know a portion of what you know. You’d hang out with your awkward teenage self and reassure him not to worry, those painful high school years will pass and things will get better. You’d talk to your smitten self who had just fallen in love for the first time and bask in the feelings of a puppy love relationship – without disclosing that she is about to break your heart.
However, there will be one former self that you’d want to avoid – that former self who did that horrible thing you’ve never found a way to forgive yourself for. If you are forced to speak to him, you would immediately start yelling, “How could you do that? What were you thinking at that time? You are such an idiot!” Then the cocktail party would be ruined.
The Cocktail Party of You is a kind of metaphor for what happens when you experience regret. You abandon the celebration of all of the interesting parts of your life to hone in on this one festering mistake that haunts you. Regret is a form of self-hatred. Hating some part of yourself in the past messes you up psychologically. The way to get over regret is not to ignore it. It’s to push through it. It’s to engage that former self, to talk to them directly and understand why they did what they did. It’s to sympathize with that former self, to care for them, and ultimately, forgive them.
Our minds are always constructing narratives to explain our feelings and experiences. These narratives are rarely accurate, yet, we need them because they hold our sense of self in place. By honestly questioning our narratives, we’ll often find that it wasn’t actually that bad for what we did. At the Cocktail Party of You, the only version of you who can teach you something is the Regrettable You. It’s the one version of yourself that can show you where your narratives have gone wrong, where your understanding of yourself has faltered, where you are refusing to take responsibility for your life and your pain.
Learning from our mistakes is a fundamental component of a happy life. If you do something wrong, but you learn from it, then that mistake suddenly becomes helpful. While that might not remove all our negative feelings, it certainly prevents things from getting worse. So let your regrets turn into a raging wildfire that kills everything in its path. Then you can sow the seeds for something better in the ashes.