Smart About Money: “Regret is valuable …”

Nick Maffeo

Dan Pink has written a new book, “The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward.”

Apparently there are a lot of different kinds of regret. Pink writes about one woman who deeply regretted not spending more time as a child with her now-deceased grandparents, which falls into the “Something You Just Couldn’t Have Known At The Time” category.

Obviously there’s no way to go back and correct those regrets. The best someone can do might be to let the regret go and look for ways to have a similar experience now. Possibly in that woman’s case she could connect today with older relatives.

Another category of regret is about “Something You Should Have Known.” An experienced driver ignored a red-light oil warning, even after friends said that was something to get checked. Then their car engine seized. The driver felt bad later because they knew they should have paid attention to the light but they just didn’t.

Everyone regrets things like that, feeling like they “should have” known. Because the fact is that they did know. They regret not acting on that knowledge.

Which is a perfect example of what Dan Pink means when he says regret is valuable. “Granted, regret feels awful,” Pink says. “But it clarifies. It instructs. Done right, it needn’t drag us down. It can lift us up.”

Possibly the category of regret that’s easiest to make peace with is “Something You Wish You Had Known.” Wishing one had loaded up on Apple stock, Amazon stock, Microsoft, ocean-front real estate – you name it – is a common “if only” kind of regret. Everyone has plenty of these regrets that you can’t get a re-do on without a time machine.

Dan Pink points out that one of the gifts of regret is the “fear of regret” – keeping people aware of things they should do now or they’ll be sorry later.

After retiring from the National Hockey League, superstar Derek Sanderson went around to local schools, speaking honestly about how he had “squandered it all.” He urged young people to not go the way he had gone. Sanderson spoke movingly of a friend who literally saved his life and helped him make his way back from a very dark place filled with sorrow and regrets.

Derek Sanderson’s goal speaking at schools? To “pay forward” his friend’s kindness and hopefully keep kids from doing things they would regret.

Life has left some people in a positon where saving for retirement is very difficult or genuinely impossible. But those tragic situations tend to be rare. And it turns out that not saving for retirement is actually one of people’s biggest money regrets.

A gentleman told Dan Pink, “I regret not saving money diligently ever since I started working. It’s nearly crushing every day to think about how hard I’ve worked but financially I have nothing to show for it.”

If you know you haven’t been saving enough for retirement, here’s your chance to learn from the regret felt by that man and by Derek Sanderson. Let yourself off the “should have started earlier” hook and take steps to start saving today. Even small steps. You won’t regret it.

(P.S. The friend who Derek Sanderson said saved his life? Hockey legend and – more important – described by so many as an all-around truly good guy, Bobby Orr.)

From the “Smart About Money” Canton Citizen column published August 10 2023.
Nick Maffeo is the President & CEO of Canton Co-operative Bank – right next to the Post Office – in Canton.
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