Book Review:  The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward by Daniel H. Pink

This book starts out strong. The author points out the fallacy of the expression “no regrets” because, well, everyone has regrets. To find out what these regrets are, Pink undertook a massive international survey and also delved deeply into past research findings. He discovered that the regrets people expressed from all over the world can be divided into four main categories: foundation regrets, which have to do with health, education, finance, and other essential matters; boldness regrets, or not taking chances when presented with opportunities for growth; moral regrets, which include cheating, deceiving, swindling, and other negative behaviors; and connection regrets, or failure to recognize and love important people in our lives.

He devotes a chapter to each of these “core regrets,” as he calls them. Explanations throughout the book are liberally sprinkled with examples from Pink’s surveys and research. Recognizing regrets, whether those that comprise things we did or things we failed to do, insists the author, can help us to use them as opportunities for growth.

As I read, I found myself wondering what the greatest regrets in my own life were. Through the descriptions and examples I was able to pinpoint several. One of the deepest and most important was the destruction of my early manuscripts. I had set out on the road to find my voice as a writer. My quest took me across the United States, around Europe, across the Middle East, and around the Indian Subcontinent. In my duffle bag, I always carried a notebook and pen. I remember clearly when the pure words started pouring out. It was in Goa, India, and I was sitting under a palm tree at the beach. They were clear, honest, insightful words. As I traveled, I filled that notebook, and then another, and then another. When I got back to the States, I stored those notebooks, along with some typewritten manuscripts I had composed in Seattle when I got back, in a box in the basement of my mother’s house. I was still traveling at the time, and I couldn’t carry them with me. At some point after I had returned to India, I felt I needed a fresh start and wrote to my mother that she should destroy that box of manuscripts. What the hell was I thinking? Wonderful pure insightful words were lost forever! Yes, a great regret indeed. And I have compensated for that loss by being more careful with my writings since then. I always back up my work – even first drafts as soon as I complete them. And when my writings are as perfect as I can make them, I publish them rather than have them languish in a drawer. After all, that’s why I write them: so that they can be read by others.

Some other important regrets have to do with personal relationships. I met some wonderful women on the road and did not always give them the respect and attention they deserved. When I got married and we began to have children, I sometimes got too busy with work and maintaining the household and didn’t spend enough time with the family. On one of my forays to the States when we were living in Greece, I had a chance to take a side trip from Seattle to California to visit my brother Jeff, who I hadn’t seen in many years. I didn’t do it, deciding that I was short of time and money. Soon after I returned to Greece he died. It is forever too late to remedy that error. But later on, I did not make the same mistake. A few years ago, one of my sons and I were on a road trip from the San Francisco Bay area to Seattle. I debated internally whether we should take the time to make a side trip to Vancouver, Washington, to visit another of my brothers. We did take the time, and it’s a good thing we did, because a few months after that visit this brother also died.

Yes, regrets are real things, and this book helps you focus on your own regrets, which can initiate a healing process. Unfortunately, the last part of the book, the part I was looking forward to the most, in which Pink supposedly offers remedies to the pain of regret, kind of falls apart. He gets into a lot of analytical reasoning that is the antithesis of the personal approach in most of the book, and it becomes rather dry, overly structured, and uninteresting. Nevertheless, the first two-thirds are very well-written and well-presented, and I recommend the book as a useful guide to identifying and mitigating the regrets in your own life.

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1 Response to Book Review:  The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward by Daniel H. Pink

  1. Thanks for writing this, i too had the privilege of reading this wonderful and very insightful book.

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