What's your standard?
The difference between being a champion and being a nearly man is in your view of the past. The real victor is able to look back on their achievements, they can talk about them but they do not have to because they don't have to prove anything. The also-ran will talk about them as though something is missing. The difference before the fact is in your head and in your heart.
To give yourself to the pursuit of your goal, without reservation, is a remarkable thing and, frankly, beyond the ken of many. Looking back and wondering what might been is tragic. If you gave it everything, with every ounce of your being then there is nothing to regret. Sure it would be good to say you had done better - and nothing should stop you striving to obtain that better outcome - but to give it your all is to have flown your colours at full mast and to have stood proud in the teeth of the gale. There is no real question because you did everything you could.
We know this. In our inner most being, we all know this. Yet why, time after time, do we settle for less? Why do we allow ourselves to be put off the attempt?
"Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt" (Shakespeare, Measure for Measure)
If we allow for the belief that we are capable of achieving our goals we become responsible for the achievement. And if we fall short, the places for blame are fewer and further between. So we are faced with the terrifying prospect of being in control of our destiny - which is too much for most of us. And so we build our excuses early. We do not start (for fear of falling short) and reserve for ourselves the ability to talk about our potential and what might have been. Or we start too late, which means we can brag of our achievements without full preparation (or say we could have achieved had we just but had longer to prepare). Or go out too hard, reckless, picking up an injury or ailment - and oh, the heights we could have achieved had we just not picked up this war wound - Oh the dizzying heights we might have achieved.
We say we want it. We say the right words. We make the right noises. But either bubbling quietly just beneath the surface, or else in the dark recesses of our sub-conscious, we are terrified of that commitment; that idea that maybe, just maybe, we can achieve what we want - if we can just be certain about what we want! Then there is the baggage. OK, maybe we can identify what we want, and we can (and will) work towards it. What if we get there? What then? Do we deserve that kind of success? Can we back that up again and again to keep hitting that new standard? Do we want to stand out from the crowd like that? Ah heck, surely it is better to wheel out the old war wound and claim that "I could have been a contender".
Why do we not try all that often? Because, pass or fail, win or lose, we have to look ourselves in the eye and acknowledge our part. There aren't many times in our lives that call upon that degree of honesty. Not many can handle it. Can you? Not trying gives us a shield to deflect some of that attention.
I can think of times in my life, too many in truth, where I have settled for achieving x without preparation. I may not have achieved as much as I could have done but hey, on no training/preparation this is some achievement, isn't it? "I could have done better if I wanted to but I wasn't that bothered". In truth this is a half-life. It does not require you to test yourself. The times where I have tried, crashed and burned have been much more exhilarating. Leaving everything out there, knowing that you could not have done anything differently in the build-up (for whatever reason) and that you had absolutely nothing left to offer. I wish I'd had more times like those, that's where life is (and it's not just a sport thing). Not doing it weighs heavily. You may not know the cause of the frustration but it casts a long shadow. The hard work in the attempt might be painful but it does not hurt half as much as knowing you sold yourself short.
Don't have to ask "what if" of the universe. Know the answer because you figured it out for yourself. We all owe ourselves that much at least.