Leaving with no regrets: the positive discipline of looking forward

I am now on the verge of departing St Mary’s Calne, and the past few days have been full of very moving occasions in which I have been able to say farewell, and in which members of the community have been able to say farewell to me (although I do point out that Australia is not actually that far away, and even less far electronically!). Farewells are important, though, and as part of this process I was interviewed last week by one of my Year 12 students – a budding journalist who also edits the school student magazine. One of the questions she asked me was whether I had any regrets about my time as Head of my current school. I considered her question and then answered truthfully that I didn’t: the point about regrets is that it is far too easy to waste time indulging in them. The time that we have on this planet is too precious to fritter away in thinking about what we could or should have done differently, and wishing that we could change something that cannot or should not be changed.

The results of a recent British Heart Foundation survey showed that the average UK citizen spends two hours 15 minutes a week regretting what he or she has or hasn’t done in life. The top ten of these regrets include not travelling enough and seeing more of the world, not keeping in touch with more friends from the past, and not exercising enough. The British Heart Foundation had run the survey to help promote their Overseas Fundraising Challenge, so the implicit encouragement to stop regretting and get on with putting these missing elements right – by travelling, exercising and being with friends – was a pleasantly convenient outcome for them. The significance of their research, however, is more wide-ranging: over two hours of waking time a week is a hefty period of time just to be regretting past action or inaction, especially as it is a fair guess that the associated feelings (probably similar to despondency) will last for longer than just two hours. Think what else you could do with those two or more hours a week; think what you could achieve if you set your mind to not having any regrets, but instead just moving forwards.

Having no regrets is a discipline; it is not easy, nor should it be an excuse for passing off bad behaviour – knowing that you must not regret something should not permit you to do something that you know in advance will be the wrong thing to do. When I speak to senior pupils on how to prepare to maximise their future choices, I say to them that they need to approach the future with positivity and “relentless optimism”. They can create their future; they will create their future to their liking and for the good of others if they are determined to move forwards, onwards, upwards, and leave their regrets behind.

It is only a few hours now until I leave St Mary’s Calne and travel to Australia to take up the Headship of Ascham School in Sydney. And although it is hard to leave a super school with super girls, I go in the spirit of adventure and of looking forward to an great new community. No regrets. Just wonderfully relentless optimism.


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