“There are two types of pain: heartbreak and regret. Regret sucks because you know you left something out there, but heartbreak is beautiful, because it means you lost something you truly loved.” - Jon Reese (1989 Yale Football Captain, 1990 Yale Lacrosse First-Team All American and Ivy League Player of the Year).
A while back my friends and I had a discussion about relativity in life. How struggles we have at one time may, in the future, seem like nothing. You wonder how you even had difficulty during such a time because it pales in comparison to what you’re experiencing in the present. This attitude, though, ignores our growth as humans. It is a perpetual truth that we would not be who we are today without our past. Millions and millions of serendipitous, fantastic, humbling moments that build upon each other. Every experience you’ve had creates the person of the present. To dismiss even one is to ignore a part of yourself. The happiest day transports you to the peak of human existence, only to have sadness and pain break you down to bare bones.
Pain and sadness are a part of life. They’re essential to the human experience, in fact. We grow from them and we learn from them. They are at one far end of an emotional spectrum. This is important because they’re not in the middle. They’re not melancholy. On either end of the emotional spectrum is where we can feel most alive. True happiness, true joy, there’s nothing like it. It is a drug more addicting than anything imaginable. What about true pain? True sadness? Similarly, they are not replicable. At their purest level, they’re disarming. You can’t avoid true sadness. You can run from it, but eventually it will catch up to you. Why does it matter? Embracing that pain is what makes us human. To deny your ability to feel is to deny that you are living.
Heartbreak and regret provide alternate lessons. I find that heartbreak should be sought after. If we live life to its fullest extent, we inevitably chase heartbreak. It lurks behind perceived perfection, waiting to welcome us unsuspectingly into its arms. While this sounds bleak (it is in some ways), it is also what makes the human experience so riveting. It means you fully gave yourself to something else; so much so that you were vulnerable to it, exposed in full to the limitless possibility of loss. To give yourself fully to someone or something and find success is to experience the brightest light and the highest end of the emotional spectrum. It invites, however, the lowest end. To chase happiness and pursue dreams takes courage in the face of heartbreak. This is precisely what makes heartbreak so special and so valuable. One can look back, proud that they reached a level of vulnerability not all are willing to approach.
One becomes, as Teddy Roosevelt imagined him on April 23, 1910, The Man in the Arena.
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
It is a heart-wrenching but beautiful fate, to know heartbreak. To know and accept the possibility of this fate is to allow yourself to reach greater heights.
Regret highlights where we could have been better. It sheds light on our deepest faults and encourages us to recognize them in attempts to improve them. Regret is an entirely different sadness. One that can be equally consuming and yet, somehow, even worse than the most gut-wrenching heartbreak. Regret tells us to strive for greater heights. It says that you are not where you should be as a person and you know it.
Regret, thus, is also beautiful. While it may not be the lowest of lows, it allows us to see the mountain that is in front of us and gives us the tools to climb. We possess these tools. They are inside of us. So we climb. We must move from where we are and open up to heartbreak, which sits, ironically, at the base of the mountain. A place unreachable without first falling from the top.
When we all look back on our lives one day, hopefully we will cherish moments and how we spent them. It won't be about the you money made and how you spent it, but rather what you did and who you did it with. In a perfect future, there will be time to take the trip of the lifetime, go abroad, or lounge on exotic beaches. But the small things you do and the life you live on a daily basis makes all the difference. How happy were you? Did you do something that satisfied you to your core? Regret is when you look back and you did not. Heartbreak is just a beautiful part of when you do.
Mental health has become incorporated into what I personally would like to accomplish as a human being. It is as important as anything else we do, and it is dictated in part by our own choices to engage with it. Acknowledging periods of depression and bouts with anxiety is fundamental to growth. Seeking help from friends, family, or therapists is fundamental to growth. To pass through these struggles is to learn and be better from them. To forget them is to allow their lessons to disappear. Lessons that could help not only you but others. This ability to recognize but not dwell is essential to growing the acceptance and normalization of conversations surrounding mental health. If we as individuals cannot accept our struggles, how can the communities we exist in? Without acceptance, other individuals too timid to speak out and too alone to find others might be forgotten.
An inability to admit our vulnerabilities adversely affects others. Those with such strength speak and stand not only for themselves but for countless many, the infinite number of individuals who have come and gone without their stories heard. Stories untold that encompass the depths of the human experience and the breadth of the world we live in.
Let's appreciate our heartbreaks and regrets, because they are what makes us who we are. Let's fall to our lowest lows and claw our way back up. Let's fight and err and grow in the arena, and let's do it together, because there's no other choice.
By Josh Keeler.