Once as a teenager, I was on a trip with my dad in Richmond, Virginia. I don’t remember the circumstance, but I do remember the weather. It was raining so hard that people were escaping the deluge in the lobby of the John Marshall Hotel. Shaking his umbrella, a smiling gentleman said to me, “It’s really raining out there, isn’t it?” He was simply being pleasant, but rather than acknowledge his friendliness I snapped something sarcastic that implied, ‘I can see it’s raining, stupid.’ To this day, I remember the look on his face — complete bewilderment that a friendly remark had been met with such ugliness. After all these years, I wish I could go back and apologize to the man, but I can’t. I simply have to live with the knowledge that I was rude. I regret it.
Some regret in life is unavoidable, but much of it is not. Too often we find ourselves saying, “Oh, I wish I had done such and such — and now my chance is gone.” It might be an opportunity not pounced on, a risk not taken, a trip not traveled, a person not thanked, a task not done, a kindness not acknowledged — or an apology not made. Whatever the failure, it leaves behind a wholly unpleasant feeling.
As a college student, I would regularly put off my least favorite assignments to the last minute — and inevitably I would regret it. For years, I dawdled, delayed, always excusing myself with a shrug of resignation that I was a hopeless and hard-core procrastinator.
But I learned an amazing lesson in the fall of 2007 that taught me the relationship between regret and procrastination. It was a lesson I took to heart.
Two years prior — after years of promises and procrastinations — I had finally written down the true story of one of my father’s college exploits. For a few months in 1947, he had been famous. With his exploit, which was published with photos in a national magazine that year, he had unknowingly started a tradition that in 2017 marked its 70th year.
Eventually though, his escapade was forgotten, and I, his daughter, was determined to bring it back and set the record straight.
And I did. At long last, I really did it.
My story was published in Virginia Living magazine, replete with historic pictures and illustrations.
That fall, Daddy and I had so much fun regaling his heart-stopping horseback ride across a football field. He heard from old college friends. He was the talk of cocktail parties, and he even had his historic magazine picture flashed on the Jumbotron at a football game to commemorate the event.
What I had succeeded in doing, however, didn’t sink in fully until two years later when I stood over his grave. I remember thinking how very glad I was that this one time I had not put off the task.
I had not procrastinated. And therefore, I had nothing to regret. I had pulled the rip chord, done the deed, taken the plunge. Few things in my life have ever felt so satisfying. It was joy and accomplishment and satisfaction. It was the opposite of regret — and I was never going back.
It’s a lesson for all writers. Write the story. Finish the novel. Publish the book. It is rarely what we write that we regret. Most often, it is was we do not get around to writing.
I’ve taken that lesson to heart, and when I published CAIRNAERIE last year, I avoided having to ever say, “I wish I had.”
And that is how I learned not to procrastinate.