Time travel movies have it easy.
When you see the main character in a time travel plot make a mistake, there's a chance he could go back and fix things. A chance to endlessly say "Do over!".
And I'm going to be honest. The thought of having a chance to go back and fix all the places where I feel like I messed up? That's really enticing to me. I didn't used to think in those terms. I try not to regret anything. I've never wanted to go back and change anything, even the hard times, because I feel like it's made me into the person I am.
But lately I've thought that it would be really nice to invent time travel, just so I could fix a few things (in addition to investing in the proper stocks and other requisite time travel stuff). Sometimes you know when something big is happening to you. You fall in love. You get married. You break up with the love of your life. These decisions feel big.
But some decisions aren't big, all at once stuff. A lot of decisions you make are small, but over time have their own weight. I think it's these smaller decisions that make people say "If I'd known then what I knew now" because it's so subtle.
These regrets are hard to think about, to deal with, so we mostly just run off of auto-pilot. If you've been estranged from your best friend for a year because of some fight you had, it's really hard to go back and try to undo the damage. It's hard to sift through the hurt and pain, to try and go back to make things like they used to be. Part of doing that requires the ability to see the places that you've messed up; places where you dropped the ball. And that's not always easy.
And like I said, sometimes you don't know how vital something is until you see the after effects.
There's a song by The Fray that makes me think about that. It's called "How to Save a Life".
"Where did I go wrong, I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life."
Between the chorus and the rest of the lyrics this song always makes me think of a situation where you didn't know some conversation you had was so important to someone, until it was too late. You would have done things differently if you had just known.
But since no one has invented time travel yet, you have to make the best out of the way things are now. If you do have regrets, it doesn't mean you can't try to fix things now, no matter how hard it is.
Because just like there's a lot of small decisions you make that lead to a estrangement, there's also a lot of smaller decisions you can make to bridge that gap. Don't let your fear of what might happen, and your desire to not open old wounds stop you from doing something you really want to.
We all have regrets, and places where we feel like we failed. In our writing, in our dealings with people, in our own emotional development. But we can take those regrets, learn from them, and try to make things the way we want them to be.
Just like getting a book published, we can't be too afraid to try.