Higher Ed: The Key To Dissipating Regret? Use It To Spur Action And Change

A podcast listener wrote in asking for guidance about how to handle the regret she feels over the choices she made in college.  In this episode of KUT’s podcast “Higher Ed,” Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT’s Jennifer Stayton examine regret and the ways in which it can actually inspire positive change.

A podcast listener named Rebekah wrote in with the following question: “Sometimes when I listen to your podcast…I get a bit sad because I did not do all the things you talk about. I did not fit in at my college. I did not learn deeply. I focused on the wrong things and it hurts to think that maybe my life could have been better if only….What would Ed say to me about my sorrow over my misspent youth or lost opportunities?”

Ed’s first response? “I think it’s fantastic that Rebekah has regret!”

And why is that?

Ed says he looks at regret as a signal of a couple of things, one of them being personal growth.

“Regret is something that means that she has grown from where she was to where she is now,” Ed maintains. “So if nothing else, she needs to celebrate the fact that she looks at, in this case, her formal education in a different way. That’s huge growth and that’s worthy of celebration in and of itself.”

Ed believes regret truly becomes useful when that feeling prompts action.

“When you feel that, now there’s an action item. What are you going to do about it?” asks Ed. “It’s never too late to be learning.”

Ed says listening to that inner voice that fuels feelings of regret can help spur that action.

“If there’s a longing in us today that is something that could lead us to become [an] ever better, more amplified version of ourselves then we need to embrace that longing and take action. That’s the key to regret,” Ed believes. “Sitting by and just going ‘oh, woe is me’ – that’s ineffective.”

Ed says understanding why we feel regret for things done (or not done) in the past can also help us take action that will prevent similar regret later on. Listen to the full episode to hear more about what Ed calls “intellectual regret prevention” and to get the solution to last episode’s shape-shifting puzzler.

This episode was recorded on Sept. 25, 2019.

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Jennifer Stayton