The Ghost of Future Regret

I came across this phrase as I was reading a remarkable book, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell. A historical novel set in Japan at the turn into the 19th century, this book is a magical story combining layers of history, intrigue, politics, values, cultural clashes, and unrequited love. Exquisitely, poetically written, it is a book to savor.

At one point, the protagonist looks longingly at a Japanese woman he yearns to talk to. He hesitates, and then visited by “The Ghost of Future Regret,” he speaks.

The words leaped out at me, a phrase to remember. How many times do we hesitate – hesitate some more – and then a unique opportunity is gone. Forever. This is not to say that we’re supposed to act immediately on every impulse, but what a useful concept: will the Ghost of Future Regret haunt me about this moment?

Lots of categories to consider here – the biking jersey that I loved but seemed just a little too pricey. (A week later it was still available. I bought it. Go away, Ghost . . . ) The difficult phone conversation descending into misunderstanding. Do I speak, or keep quiet? (That Ghost, no doubt, will reappear – and better, perhaps, to speak from a considered point than off the cuff.)

I think, however, the real challenge of the Ghost of Future Regret lies in opportunities. Those sometimes-so-subtle-as-to-be-easily-overlooked nuances that flicker in our lives – an invitation, perhaps, or a sudden idea that comes from nowhere that is ours to either pursue or ignore. Then, too, sometimes the challenges are truly momentous: things like moving, or job changes, or defining relationships. Perhaps these, too, are times to consult the Ghost! Ask ourselves how he/she/it will deal with us on this one! My big brother used to say, “Little sister: will this matter five years from now?” Good point. We can get so mired in today that we lose the bigger picture. Or so mired in today that we ignore serendipitous detours. Here comes the Ghost . . .

As usual, there are no blanket conclusions to be drawn. That’s why life is so interesting! Today’s solution may very well not work tomorrow. I like the idea, however, of using the Ghost of Future Regret as one of my filters.

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