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Beyond Regret: Listening to Your Values & Protecting Yourself from Burnout

Updated: Mar 7

An 8 year old girl sits in front of a piano keyboard with her head in her hands looking upset
Too many activities in childhood can make it harder to rest in adulthood too

"So you don't do piano lessons anymore?" our well-intentioned family friend inquired of my 12-year-old daughter during her visit last week.

"That's a shame. I gave up when I was your age and I always regretted it."

I overheard this exchange from the next room, my heart sinking. My daughter had struggled with the decision to stop piano lessons. She admired the concept of playing, yet it was other activities like athletics and her steel pans club that truly sparked her joy, not the piano. In many aspects of her life, she embraced new challenges with a growth mindset, but this enthusiasm didn't extend to her music practice. Frustration and misery accompanied her attempts to learn new pieces.

Getting her to piano lessons each week became a struggle. We had suggested she could stop, but being aware of the common adult narrative of regret over abandoning childhood activities she feared this for herself.

So we had a think and came to her with a reframe of the question: What if she took a break instead of giving up? How would a term off feel? This resonated with her, and she agreed.

After a term's break, she chose not to return to piano lessons. Now, two terms later, she remains content with her decision. Our evenings are more relaxed, free from practice stress and keyboard frustrations. She engages in crafting, spends time with friends, and stays longer at school for clubs that truly interest her. She still plays the piano at times, focusing on her favourite pieces, prioritizing enjoyment over progression.

I want to share this story for two reasons:

1. Understanding Childhood Decisions Without Regret: If you're an adult who regrets giving up a childhood activity, consider this: your regret now does not necessarily reflect your feelings back then. Perhaps stopping was a beneficial decision at the time. Maybe it allowed you to engage in more meaningful activities or improved family relationships. Remember, our values evolve over time. What mattered to you as a child might differ significantly from your current values. But either way, your wishes and thoughts that guided your decision at that age deserve respect.

If you feel regret like this or are contemplating restarting an old activity, ask yourself:

  • What opportunities did stopping create?

  • How did your values align with that decision?

  • What's important to you now, and how does this skill fit into your current life?

  • Would resuming this activity require sacrificing something else, and if so, is that what you want?

2. Breaking the Cycle of Regret: Let's shift from a narrative of 'giving up' to one of 'creating space' or 'pausing'. The former frames the decision as failure, while the latter emphasizes informed choice and personal needs. This approach helps avoid burnout, but it requires listening to our own desires.

What do we truly regret?

I asked our family friend, who enjoys playing the piano now as an adult, why she felt regret. She wished she had continued as a child to achieve a higher skill level as an adult. This sentiment is common: we often equate success with constant improvement and mastery, rather than enjoyment.

My daughter still says she plays the piano because she does. She may not be advancing in skill, but her enjoyment has increased significantly. More importantly, she's learning to protect her time and energy. In a world full of choices, it's crucial to learn the skill of declining activities to maintain our well-being. Embracing this skill helps us to listen to our body when it's telling us it needs rest, and also to let go of the pressure to excel in everything. Both of these can prevent burnout from overloading ourselves.

With this blog post I don't just want to spread a message to safeguard our children from behaviours that lead to burnout. In sharing this journey I also hope to encourage a more compassionate view of childhood decisions and the concept of regret. It's about understanding our choices within the context of our values, both past and present, and recognising the importance of joy and personal growth over traditional notions of success.

What next:

If your burnout is beyond taking preventative steps then you might find my Roadmap to Feeing Better from Burnout helpful.

If you struggle with regret and would like to explore your difficulties in therapy then do get in touch and we can discuss your needs.

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