Ten years from now, it won’t really matter what shoes you wore today, how your hair looked, or what brand of clothes you wore. What will matter is how you lived, how you loved, and what you learned along the way.
Deep down you know this already, right?
Yet today, just like the majority of us, you are easily distracted and derailed by the insignificant.
You give too much of your time to meaningless time-wasters.
You step through days, skeptically, with inner resistance.
You take your important relationships for granted.
You get caught up in hurtful drama.
And the list goes on.
Why do you follow these hurtful patterns of behavior?
Why do you set yourself up for regret when you know better?
Because you’re human, and human beings are imperfect creatures that make misjudgments constantly. We get caught up in our own heads, and literally don’t know our lives to be any better than the few things that aren’t going our way. And as our minds subconsciously dwell on these things, we try to distract ourselves to numb the tension we feel. But by doing so, we also distract ourselves from what matters most.
We scrutinize and dramatize the petty annoyances in our lives until we’re blue in the face, and then we sit back and scratch our heads in bewilderment of how unfulfilling and empty life feels.
But the older we grow, the more focused we tend to become, and the less pointless drama, distraction and busyness we engage in. Life humbles us gradually as we age. We begin to realize just how much nonsense we’ve wasted time on. And we begin to adjust our focus toward what’s truly important.
Are you ready to adjust your focus?
Today, I challenge you to be an old soul—to adjust your focus sooner rather than later . . . to dodge the avoidable regret and stress on the horizon.
There are many approaches, but let’s start by learning from other people’s stories . . .
Stories of Subtle Regret, to Help You Live Well
Over the past decade, via our blog, Getting Back to Happy course (and coaching), side projects, and live annual conferences, Angel and I have been blessed by the amazing stories that people around the world have shared with us. And right now, with full permission from the original sources, I want to share powerful snippets from sixteen of these stories with you. These are super short but incredibly focused accounts of life, decision-making, and the subtle regrets that sneak up on us along the way.
There’s definitely something for all of us to learn (or re-learn) here:
- “I recently met a super wealthy and influential businessman at a corporate conference—the man has a net worth of over a hundred million dollars. In conversation, he told me he regretted never making it to his son’s hockey games or his daughter’s dance recitals. It made me smile because my total net worth is probably only as much as this man’s last paycheck, but I’ve made it to everything, and my two children always smile and wave to me in the stands during practice and on game days.”
- “Today is the 14th day in a row that my 87-year-old nursing home patient’s granddaughter has come to visit him. Two weeks ago, I told her that the only time I see her grandfather smile all week is when she visits him on Saturday afternoons.”
- “In the final decade of his life, my grandfather woke up every single day at 7 A.M., picked a fresh wild flower on his morning walk, and took it to my grandmother. One morning, I decided to go with him to see her. And as he placed the flower on her gravestone, he looked up at me and said, ‘I just wish I had picked her a fresh flower every morning when she was alive. She really would have loved that.’”
- “Last night my best friend since childhood was put in the hospital for attempting suicide. She’s always listened to my petty problems and asked me how I was feeling. But I’m sitting here in tears now, and realizing that I rarely ever asked her how she was feeling because she always seemed like she had the perfect life in my eyes.”
- “Earlier today, in the last few hours of her life, she told me her only regret was that she didn’t appreciate every year with the same passion and purpose that she has had in the last two years after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. ‘I’ve accomplished so much recently,’ she said. ‘If I had only known, I would have started sooner.’”
- “Today, after spending the past three years constantly hassling and bickering with the 20-something who lives and parties next door, I found myself crying in his arms and thanking him repeatedly for saving my son’s life.”
- “This morning at a train stop near the hospital, a man and his three young kids got on. The kids were loud and completely out of control, running from one end of the train car to the other. An annoyed passenger sitting next to me looked over at the man and asked, ‘Is there a reason you’re letting your kids go nuts right now?’ The man looked up with tears in his eyes and said, ‘The doc just told me their mother isn’t going to make it. Sorry, I’m just trying to think before we all sit down at home to talk about this.’ And, of course, the annoyed passenger was speechless.”
- “Today my son turned seven, and I turned 23. Yes, I had him on the day I turned 16. Many of the choices I made when I was a teenager were beyond foolish, and I still have my regrets. And even though I know I’ve grown, I sometimes I get worried that I’m bringing my son up wrong—that I’m somehow subconsciously passing my past foolishness on to him. But today I took him to the park to celebrate our birthdays. He played for two hours with a girl who has burn scars that cover most of her neck and face. When my son took a break to eat a snack, he pointed to her and said, ‘She’s really pretty and cool!’ Which left me thinking, ‘I must be doing something right as a mom.’”
- “The ‘biggest nerd’ in my 2004 high school graduation class—a nice, quiet boy who I wasn’t very nice to—is now the heart surgeon who saved my mom’s life after she suffered from a sudden heart attack at 68 last night.”
- “As my grandfather rested in his hospital bed this evening, desperately fighting pancreatic cancer, he squeezed my hand tight and said, ‘Promise me, no matter how good or bad you have it, you will wake up every morning thankful for your life. Because every morning you wake up, someone somewhere else will be desperately fighting for theirs. It’s something so simple and important that I never valued until now.’”
- “I was recently reunited with an old friend after nine years of silence between us. Throughout high school and college, we were best friends. Then just before college graduation we got into a nasty fight over a boy. Terrible, hateful words were exchanged and we never spoke again, until today. And as we hugged each other, and cried, we acknowledged how irrelevant that boy is now.”
- “I am a 27-year-old mom to four beautiful children. Everyone in my family told me I was too young to have kids at 20. And there were admittedly a few regret-filled times in my past when I deeply doubted myself and my decision to be a young mom. But what nobody anticipated, including myself, is that at age 26 I would be diagnosed with a rare fallopian tube infection, requiring a full hysterectomy. Now when people say I look too young to have four kids, I feel incredibly blessed.”
- “Today my daughter firmly confronted me with the fact that my biggest fear, a fear that has undoubtedly held me back from many life experiences, has never come true. And I am turning 76-years-old tomorrow.”
- “This morning one of my regular customers, a really grumpy elderly man who has been eating in our diner every morning for the better part of five years, left me $1,000 in cash for his $7 breakfast. Alongside the cash he left a small note that read, ‘Thank you, Christine. I know I haven’t been the brightest smile in your life, and I know we’ve even exchanged rude remarks a few times over the years, but your smile and generally hospitable service have sincerely given me something to look forward to every morning since my wife passed away. I wanted to say thank you. I’m moving eight hours down the road this afternoon to live with my son and his family. May the rest of your life be magical.’”
- “I sat down with my two daughters, ages six and eight, this afternoon to explain to them that we have to move out of our four-bedroom house and into a two-bedroom apartment for a year or two until I can find another job and build our savings back up. It’s a conversation I’ve been avoiding for over a month, as I’ve struggled with the doubts and regrets of not being able to provide a financially stable household for us. But my daughters just looked at each other after I told them, and then my youngest daughter turned to me and asked, ‘Are we all moving into that apartment together?’ ‘Of course,’ I immediately replied. ‘Oh, so no big deal then,’ she said.”
- “This afternoon I was looking through an old Windows laptop that my dad used seven years ago before he lost his battle with colon cancer. The laptop has been sitting around collecting dust at my mom’s house ever since. In a folder named ‘Video Project’ oddly placed at the root of the C: drive, I found a video file my dad made about a month before he died that my mom and I had never seen before. In the 15-minute video my dad talks about my mom and me, how grateful he is to have had the chance to a be part of our lives, and that he has no regrets at all about anything in his life—that he is totally at peace. He ended by saying, “I know you two will miss me, but please smile for me, because I’ve lived well and I’m OK. Really, I’m OK.”
Let Go & Let Appreciation Fuel Your Next Step
I hope the stories above made you think about how to improve your approach in certain life situations. But, perhaps some of them also reminded you of how you’re falling short. If it’s the latter, I want you to take a deep breath right now. Remember that you don’t have to be defined by the things you did or didn’t do in the past. Don’t let yourself be controlled by regret. Maybe there’s something you could have done differently, or maybe not. Either way, it’s merely something that’s already happened.
Do your best to cleanse your heart and mind.
With focused presence and appreciation.
Just this morning, for example, after coming to terms with a regretful business decision I recently made, and after writing my heart out for an hour, I went for a long jog at the beach . . . sea foam kissing my feet with each step, white sand footprints behind me, and the morning sky bursting with bright colors overhead.
At the end of my jog I turned toward the ocean and took several deep breaths, mostly because the sky, and the Atlantic, had momentarily taken my breath away.
I stood there on the sand and applauded. Yes, I literally clapped my hands in recognition.
Because this is the only response life truly deserves: a fully present, appreciative applause.
Today, wherever you are, whatever regrets or circumstances you’re dealing with, take a moment to really appreciate this gift we call life, and applaud.
Then do your best to give back to life. Do something—anything—to show your gratitude for this imperfect miracle you’ve been given. Be kind to a stranger, create something others can use, be loving to your family . . . make a small difference in your own unique way.
And see how it feels.
Before you go, let me ask you a quick question:
- Which story (or point) above resonates the most with you right now?
And how might reminding yourself of it, daily, change your life?
Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
Also, our next annual Think Better, Live Better conference is taking place February 10-11, 2018 in San Diego. Two discounted early bird tickets are still available today (while they last).