“I have seen and touched and danced and sung and climbed and loved and meditated on a lifetime spent living honestly. Should it all end tomorrow, I can positively say there would be no regrets. I feel fortunate to have walked 90 years in my shoes. I am truly lucky. I really have lived 1,000 times over.”
Those are the opening lines to one of the final entries in my grandmother’s journal – a 270-page, leather-bound journal she wrote small entries in almost every day during the final decade of her life. When my grandmother passed on, she formally left her journal for me in her will. Since then, I have read it from cover to cover countless times. Although I have shared some of her insights and quotes with you before, the quote above is the only one I have printed out and hanging over my desk. It reminds me to strive to end each day with no excuses, no false explanations, and no regrets.
Over the course of our blog’s seven-year lifespan, Angel and I have received well over a thousand emails from readers who either have regrets or are fearful that they are leading a life that will ultimately lead to regret. As we’ve read and responded to each of these emails over the years, it became clear to us that most people struggle with the exact same regrets. In this post, I want to share six of these regrets with you – the ones that seem, by a long shot, to be the most popular among our readers – and examine some ideas on how to avoid their grief.
1. Letting uncertainty paralyze you.
Sometimes you will not be able to see where you are going; every step will seem uncertain. But know that as long as you follow your intuition and take baby steps, your soul’s inner GPS will guide you home. You will find that you will be the right person, at the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing on point. Trust your instincts. Relax. You know what to do. Living is about learning as you go.
Living is risky business. Every decision, every interaction, every step, every time you get out of bed in the morning, you take a small risk. To truly live is to know you’re getting up and taking that risk, and to trust yourself to take it. To not get out of bed, clutching to illusions of safety, is to die slowly without ever having truly lived.
If you simply ignore your feelings and let uncertainty win, you will never know anything for sure, and in many ways this unknowing will be worse than finding out your hunch was wrong. Because if you were wrong, you could make adjustments and carry on with your life without ever looking back and wondering what might have been. (Read Uncertainty.)
2. Focusing on past failures instead of present opportunities.
Well, it’s true, you have failed and you have been hurt… perhaps quite a bit. But it’s also true that you have loved, and been loved. That you have risked, and received. That you have grown not just older, but wiser every day. And all of this carries a weight of its own – a greater weight than any particular failure or wound. Think of your whole life as a giant pie chart. In the end, you will look back on your life and see that the greatest portion of it was spent living, loving, and learning through unanticipated, priceless experiences. The problems, the failures, the sadness… these things are part of the pie, but they are just small slivers that led to the bigger slices of life.
What you need to realize is that we all do things we desperately wish we could undo. These feelings of regret just become part of who we are, along with everything else. To spend time trying to change the past, is to waste all of the present and future. Forget the failures of the past and focus on the present opportunities. It’s better to have a life full of small failures that you learned from, rather than a lifetime filled with the regrets of never trying.
Have you ever seen a toddler learn to walk? They stumble and fall numerous times before getting it right. Mistakes are learning opportunities. It takes failure after failure to create success. So don’t let time pass you by like a hand waving from a train you desperately want to be on. Don’t spend the rest of your life thinking about why you didn’t do what you can do right now.
3. Being too busy impressing others and forgetting about what’s best for YOU.
Get your priorities straight. Twenty years from now it won’t really matter what shoes you wore today, how your hair looked, or what brand of jeans you bought. What will matter is how you lived and loved, what you learned, and how you applied this knowledge.
So forget about impressing everyone else. Be real instead. If you want to impress someone, impress yourself by making progress on something you’re sincerely proud of. It’s truly amazing what you can accomplish in a day when you aren’t constantly worried about what everyone else in the world thinks.
4. Not saying what you need to say.
All those important words you have kept to yourself…
They are bottling up inside you!
Is it really possible to tell someone what you feel? Yes, it is. They won’t always understand, because even when they have heard you, they can’t feel exactly what you feel inside. But you still have to speak up, for your own peace of mind.
If you appreciate someone today, tell them. If you have something to say, say it now. Hearts are often confused and broken by words left unspoken. There might not be a tomorrow. Today is the day to express your love, your feelings, and your message to the world. Communicate on your own terms, with your own words, and get your thoughts out there.
And again, remember, no matter how cautiously you choose your words, someone will always twist them around and misinterpret what you say. So just say what you need to say. In order to be fully expressed and free of regret, you must lose your fear of being judged. (Read Daring Greatly.)
5. Completely ignoring your passions and hobbies.
Some people frantically seek a defined state of success as though their entire self-worth depends on whether or not they make it to the top – of their company, industry, niche, etc. Their goals and efforts are wound tight around stringent routines that they repeat every single day of their lives, without stopping to breathe. And in the process, they forget about every other dimension of their life – the passions, hobbies, and activities that make them smile.
Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.” With the modern 8-to-5 work schedule it’s so easy to trap yourself into doing what you don’t want to do for 40+ hours every week and then mindlessly wasting all your free time being lazy.
Sure you have responsibilities. And no, you won’t be able to do what you want to do every waking minute of your life. But you always have a choice to do more of what you really want to do – to work on something that matters to you – something that moves you and makes you smile. Make time for YOU too.
6. Not spending enough time smiling with the people you love.
When you don’t talk enough with your the people you love, there’s a lot of beautiful stuff that ends up not getting said. When you don’t spend enough time with the people you love, there’s a lot of beautiful emotion that ends up not being felt.
As we get older, social fun is often underrated. With all of our big responsibilities, socializing seems like an indulgence. It shouldn’t be. It should be a requirement. When your work life is busy, and all your energy is focused in that arena, it’s all too easy to find yourself off balance. While drive and focus is important, if you intend to maintain happiness and peace in your life you still need to balance in the soccer games, the family dinners, the intimate dates with your significant other, and the outings with your closest friends.
Nurture your important relationships so that when you tell the people you love that you love them, it’s merely a ritualistic validation of what you have already shown them by how you have prioritized them into your schedule every day. (I’ve written about this extensively in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
One day, many moons from now, you will find yourself close to the end, and thinking about the beginning.
TODAY is that beginning. TODAY is life. You’ve got to live it.
Live for what’s right. Live for what you believe in. Live for what’s important to you. Live for the people you love, and never forget to tell them how much they mean to you. Realize that today you’re lucky because you still have a chance. So stop for a moment and think. Whatever you still need to do, start doing it now. There are only so many todays left.
Asking you a question like, “What will you regret most about today?” is an obvious way to end this post. But I want to flip your perspective instead. So tell me…
What’s one thing you CAN do today that you know you will NOT regret?
Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts and insights.
Photo by: Zach Dischner