“The master, even in his dreams, seems burdened with regrets about his watercolors. And men who accept the burdens of regret, whether in respect of watercolors or of anything else, are not the stuff that men of the world are made of.” writes Sōseki Natsume in his classic work, I Am a Cat, a series of observations about human behavior from the perspective of a house cat in Japan during the early 1900s. The cat, who for the duration of the book remains nameless, has observed his master, a teacher, take on numerous hobbies, including painting with watercolors, only to realize he has no aptitude for any of them. The cat observed his master paint less and become more isolated as he carried the burden of his regret.
We’ve all worked with someone who comes into the office every day, shuffling, sighing as they sit down, keeping to themselves. Some who manages to do enough to maintain their value but have faded into the scenery. The regret of not taking chances and of the chances taken that have not worked out as they had hoped, has buried the spark that once existed, not forgotten, but abandoned. Take one day at a time has become not a reminder of the many, small steps required to reach a grander vision but a mantra to get through the day. Status quo maintained becomes an accomplishment.
“I’ll never become like that,” the 20 and 30-somethings say to themselves, observing the victim of regret in a meeting wearing a coffee stain unnoticed. “I won’t get stuck,” they say just before the meeting breaks for lunch and they discuss why they’ve decided not to apply for that job across the country a recruiter had called about. “It’s just too far away,” they rationalize. Too far away from what they already know.