The Secrets We Regret

Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.

Frank Warren has a lot of secrets. His PostSecret project has collected anonymous secrets confessed on postcards from strangers all over the world. It's an amazing project that lets us take an unfiltered look at the unspoken truths that could live in any of our hearts, souls, or minds. Frank has provided this unique outlet for so many people to truly free themselves of their secrets.

But what about the secrets we regret?

That's a question I threw out into the blogosphere five years ago when I created the Secret Regrets project. Since then, more than 25,000 people have anonymously answered that question by confessing the biggest regret of their life at Here are a few examples of those secret regrets:

  • There's the junior high student who secretly regrets allowing her gym teacher to seduce her into an inappropriate relationship.
  • The wife who secretly regrets having a retaliation affair after she learns of her husband's infidelity.
  • The student who witnesses a violent racist act and secretly regrets doing nothing to stop it.
  • The college student who secretly regrets settling for being "friends with benefits" because it's the only way she can stay connected to her ex.
  • The wife who secretly regrets giving up on the love of her life -- because he's her best friend's husband.
  • The ex-girlfriend who secretly regrets not coming forward with information about a murder she suspects her ex of committing.
  • The woman who secretly regrets not acting sooner to turn in a suspected pedophile, giving him a chance to destroy evidence.
  • The man who regrets reconnecting with his high school sweetheart on Facebook, and ends up putting two marriages at risk by rekindling a broken relationship.

People were saying things like, "Hey, you might think you are alone, but I know exactly what you are going through. I've been there too, and I understand. And if I can make it through this situation, then there's hope for you to." -- Kevin A. Hansen

As the popularity of the Secret Regrets project grew, I was amazed at how honest, raw and candid the regrets that were being anonymously confessed were. I was even more amazed at the responses that began to pour in on the comments section on the website. Instead of the typical snarky, bullying, and rude comments that seem all too prevalent across the Web, comments of support, empathy, and compassion were being left for the people who posted their regrets. People were saying things like, "Hey, you might think you are alone, but I know exactly what you are going through. I've been there too, and I understand. And if I can make it through this situation, then there's hope for you to." So what started as on online confessional for people's secret regrets, actually began to transform into this "global-online-support-community" of strangers helping strangers get through the roughest and toughest times of their lives. That really became a defining moment for the Secret Regrets project -- when I saw the power this really had to change lives. I began getting updates from people who posted their regrets -- letting me know that because of the feedback they received from the Secret Regrets community, they decided to get help. Addicts checked into rehab. Those suffering from depression sought counseling. And a suicidal teen actually abandoned her plan to take her life, and reached out to a friend for help. I knew then I had a responsibility to this project, and that's why I continue to stay dedicated to it to this day.

The stories I've come across of people facing their secret regrets and finding the courage to get past them are so incredibly inspirational. That's why I created the Secret Regrets book series. Secret Regrets Volume 1: What If You Had A Second Chance? and Secret Regrets Volume 2: Moving Past Your Past feature collections of hundreds of the most heartfelt secret regrets ever submitted -- along with many examples of the human spirit persevering and finding a way to break free from the regrets of your past.

So what have I learned after managing the Secret Regret project for five years? After reading the 25,000+ regrets, submitted from 169 countries worldwide, representing nearly 2,000,000 views to the Secret website? For me, I have learned to respond with grace more in my daily life. You never really know what people are going through -- and if you did -- you just might treat them with a little more compassion. I've learned that your regrets and mistakes don't define you -- you define you. It's not the situation, but how you respond to the situation that really counts. That's what you have control over. And finally, I've learned that it's OK to ask for help. We don't have to try to be super humans and try to solve all our problems on our own. When the going gets tough, find someone to help you get through it. There's so much help out there waiting for us to seek it out.

There are so many people that are thankful for Frank Warren and his PostSecret project. I am one of them. He's been an inspiration to me, and many, many others. I think both of our projects show the power of releasing secrets.

True healing begins with revealing.

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