When I was 25 years old I got a tribal tattoo from my shoulder down to my elbow.
Before I got it I would hear people say things like, “Tattoos should have meaning” and I couldn’t stand it. Why should it mean something? Why can’t you get a tattoo just because you like the look of it?
I think a tribal tattoo that had no meaning was my way of being rebellious. In high school I was a well-behaved, straight ‘A’ student who never got sent to the principal’s office. I never did anything rebellious for fear of getting in trouble or disappointing my parents.
This tattoo would be a way of saying, “I’m not a teenager anymore and I can do what I want! I don’t have to be the perfect do-gooder anymore!”
So I got my tribal tattoo.
And then a few years later, my sentiments changed.
My tribal tattoo didn’t feel so cool anymore. Maybe it was never cool. I had been blinded by my stubborn, don’t-tell-me-what-to-do attitude when I made the decision to get it. And now I had to live with it.
Last week I had a coaching call with a young woman struggling to get over her ex-boyfriend. She felt guilty about the way the relationship ended. She thought if she’d done things differently that they’d still be together. She was stuck in a downward spiral of self-blame and sabotage. She asked me, “How do I get past this feeling of regret?”
So I told her the story about my tribal tattoo.
Here’s the thing:
Do I still love my tribal tattoo as much as the day I got it?
No I do not.
Do I regret my tribal tattoo?
Not for a second.
When I make big decisions in my life—selling everything I own to travel the world, changing careers, what to eat for dinner—I treat those decisions like I’m getting a tattoo. I justify every decision with the information available and tell myself, “Now you’ve gotta live with the consequences.”
I know it’s hard to let go when things don’t go the way we’d like. I know it sucks to feel overcome with guilt and sadness. Trust me, I’ve been there.
But until someone invents a time machine, we can’t change the past. So why are so many of us living in it?
I love my tribal tattoo because it reminds me of a certain time in my life. It reminds me of who I used to be and how far I’ve come since. And it reminds me to not regret any decision I make.
Today, I encourage you to look at regret with new lenses.
From today forward, make every decision—big or small—with the confidence that it’s the right decision in that moment no matter what happens in the future. There are always consequences to every decision we make, but how awesome is it that we have the ability to make decisions? We have the freedom to choose our path—a luxury not all people have.
So let’s reframe regret, together.
- Stop regretting the past because you can’t change it.
- Accept every decision you’ve made because it was the right thing to do in that moment.
- Focus on the next decision you have to make and move forward.
I know I’m over-simplifying, but isn’t life so much better when it isn’t complicated?
So go on.
Let go of regret…and learn to love all your tribal tattoos.