This blog was originally going to be a talk, but when I was practicing and reviewing, I realised that I got so emotional that I felt wouldn’t be able to deliver it as a talk to give the subject matter justice. After all, even though the overall feeling turned out to be positive and talking about it has felt like I’ve had a weight lifted off me, but the fact remains we are just not accustomed to talking about regrets – often preferring to brush them under the carpet, close the door on them – and as a result, can find ourselves getting emotional which makes it difficult to ensure that the message comes across clearly. So, it felt like a blog post was the best place for my ideas, where I can invite you to share your reactions and experiences at the end (if you’d like to), and so I can explore the experiences and reflect on what it might mean for my working life, and beyond.

Regrets can haunt us, and sometimes our regrets can haunt those around us as well. They cause fear, anger, guilt, shame and a list of negative emotions. While preparing this blogpost, I had to revisit a past regret (that I think I have dealt with very well), which made me consider how my regret potentially influenced someone else very close to me. So, veering away slightly from my normal approach in this blog, the bulk of this blog will be story based and reflective, with a short looking forward section towards the end. While I am not at all trying to minimise the very negative experiences lots of people have had or push aside the trauma that many have gone through, it seemed a good idea to shift away from the idea that we view regrets as deficits, and refocus from ‘If I had ..., I would/could have …’ to ‘If I had …, I might not have …’ so that we concentrate on the event (or non-event) itself to gain some added perspective of the potential learning experience instead.




The hobby magician (and my regret)

I am a hobby magician. I am generally quite good and in 2006 I was third in a magic competition in Taiwan. I competed in the South African magic championships, and whenever I do get stressed, there are few things I find more relaxing that sitting on my own and practicing card sleights and flourishes (fancy cuts and shuffles).

When I was 15 (granted, that was decades ago), I went to a magic competition for junior and up and coming magicians in South Africa. The competition had two parts: one was close up magic, and the other was stage magic. I practiced for months and had a very polished act, if I do say so myself. The competition was in a place called Waverley in South Africa and started at 11am. My mom drove me to the competition, and by 10:45, we had asked a dozen people where the road is that we were supposed to go to. We phoned the event organiser and my magic teacher (my coach is perhaps a better term) and told them where we were. They were very surprised saying ‘You are in Waverley in Pretoria! You need to be in Waverley in Johannesburg!’ Now, that wasn’t the end of the world and my mom drove us there in a tearing hurry, but needless to say I missed the stage part of the competition, and it made me flustered.

The winner of that competition ended up as a well-known magician in South Africa, and despite competing in South African championships later on, I lacked the motivation to really work as hard as I had once done – something I regretted later. I am not sure if my mother every really forgave herself, but things like GPS and satellite navigation didn’t exist back then, and she was massively overworked at the time.


fruit drinks


The janitor’s tale (a lesson about regret)

I had forgotten somewhat about this magic story, until I recalled a talk I had heard at a multilevel marketing seminar. While few things stuck with me at the event, this story did, so I’ve adjusted it slightly to highlight a point directly related to my own story.

So, there was a young man who worked as a janitor in a private high school. Despite having to wipe disgusting stuff off the bathroom floors and picking gum of the tables, he really loved his job. Life was good. However, one day, the school got a new principal.

Our janitor is given a schedule with his new working hours, but because he cannot read or write, he asked the new principal to explain when he was supposed to be at work. The principal asks him why he cannot just read the schedule and he is forced to admit that he cannot read or write. Unfortunately, he is then informed that he will be dismissed because, although there are just laws and policies in place, all staff in a school need to set an example for their students, and someone who is illiterate is just not the right fit for the organisation. Our janitor is obviously very sad, puts his belongings in his tattered backpack, picks up his last salary payment, and heads out.

On his way home, he sees an elderly woman carrying shopping bags. One of the bags break and everything falls on the floor. So, as he is a kind person, he helps her pick up everything, puts it in his backpack, and carries it to her house. When he’s dropped off everything, he notices a juice blender on her porch and asks if he can buy it. She gives it to him for free saying they were going to throw it out in any case, and also mentions that there is a farmers’ market nearby where he could buy fairly cheap fruit and vegetables if he wanted to make juice.

He takes his last salary to buy some fruit and vegetables, and begins to make and sell juice right there and then in the market. And people buy his juice. He does it again … and again. Over time, he makes new friends, he sells lots of juice, and eventually meets a girl that he really likes in the market, and they go on a few dates. The girl’s dad is one of the farmers, and after a few more dates, he insists to meet the juice maker in his house, so they can talk about the future. When dad, mom and the daughter arrive at his house, they see a small one-bedroom apartment but all over the place there are bags of money. There are coins, bills, and more coins, and more bills! The prospective future father-in-law asks him if he pays taxes and why he doesn’t have a bank account and after an explanation from the illiterate juice maker, decides to help him set up a legit business. Now, this is difficult as they have to register for tax, explain all the income that tax was not paid on, and open a bank account. Once all is done, and thanks to the dad-in-law who had to fill in the all the paperwork because the juice seller couldn’t read or write, the bank manager says, ‘You have managed to make $250000 (US) in cash selling juice. That is amazing! But just imagine what you could have done if you could read and write!’ The juice seller replies, ‘If I could read and write, I would still have been a janitor.’




What our regrets might look like

There are many things we regret. What if we were better prepared for Covid-19? What if I was born in America or Great Britain and I was a native speaker? What if I did CELTA 10 years ago rather than teach without it for so long and not had the opportunity to become an examiner or trainer? What if I didn’t start working for this company? What if, what if, what if! And in all of these what if questions, we look at how our lives might have been better, rather than how it might have been worse. The difficult times you went through probably made you more appreciative and resilient than you would have been. The fact that you were not born in America or Great Britain means you can speak more than one language fluently or perhaps a third and a fourth, which would have been very unlikely if you were born in a ‘native speaking country’. You only becoming an examiner or trainer at the age of 45 means you are probably better at it than you would have been ten years ago, and you probably appreciate the opportunity and learning more than you would have ten years ago. And five years down the line, you might be miles better than you would have been at 40. But the perspective is what is important, and our ability to forgive ourselves and have a positive outlook on life is equally important, because there are very few regrets that are so terrible that we cannot view them from a more appreciative point of view.




My magic story continued

Right now, I am very content with my life. I have a job I love; I impact the lives of thousands of students through teaching and the teaching of teachers I have trained; my work with IATEFL LAMSIG; my writing; and other projects that impact the lives of trainers and managers all over the world, which in turn impacts the lives of students and staff members globally. I have a house I love, a wife that would go to the end of the world for me, great friends, and three kids I love more than anything in the world.

If I had ended up making it to that magic competition in Waverley, I could have looked at everything I have right now, and hit the virtual DELETE button. In one full swoop, none of what I have would exist in its current form. Instead, I could have been a Shawn Farquhar, Rick Merrill, Eric Chen, Norbert Ferre, or a Jason Latimer … people who are all ex-magic world champions. The fact that you don’t recognise most, if not all, of their names shows how insignificant it is in the bigger picture. Food for thought indeed.

So, what can we learn from this? That sometimes this perspective can allow us to turn regrets into lessons on forgiveness, reflection, and a desire to look forward. And a desire to appreciate what we have and a view of ourselves that isn’t driven by deficits.




Looking forward

We are close to the end of 2021, and often that means preparing for the new year, resolutions, and all that. I hope that this blog post has given you a new perspective on regrets and allows you to:

  • Recognise the emotional and physical harm that regrets can have on you.
  • Acknowledge how you are feeling about the past without dwelling on it.
  • Forgive yourself and others, and learn from past mistakes but allow the past to stay where it belongs. Remember that you might have forgiven the other person, but they may not have forgiven themselves (or vice versa and they have forgiven you, but you haven’t forgiven yourself) so always be kind and aware.
  • Be kind to yourself and others despite regrets. We can learn from the past, appreciate its lessons, and become stronger without having to dwell on the past and becoming jaded.
  • Realise that time is a massive giver of perspective and to always look for that alternative (not deficit driven) perspective. Some things just need time, so patience is also important.
  • Ask yourself the right questions to either generate that perspective, reflect on lessons and the true effect the event had on you or others and move past the regrets to insight and wisdom. And hopefully, kindness and acceptance.

And if things go really well in the next year, find a person that shares a regret with you, and relieve their burden as much as you can and also relieve it for yourself. So, mom, if you are reading this, the next time you are walking in a shop to buy gifts for the grandkids, or give them a hug, realise this; if you went to the right Waverley all those years ago, I might have been a famous magician, but they wouldn’t exist, and for that I am eternally thankful.

I cannot wish anyone a regret free 2022, but I wish you all a year in which you can deal with regrets in a positive constructive manner. If you are happy to share, please let us know in the comments below what you’ve been able to learn from a regret, or what the positive outcome ended up being – we would love to hear your stories.