I watched a short video the other day by a young man who had spent time talking with elderly people – those nearing the end of their lives. He asked them to tell him about their journeys. Without exception, he said, their stories began with, “I wish.” Looking back on decades of life, their first thoughts were of what they didn’t do.
Missed opportunities for love, education, travel and time spent with family are among the leading sources of regret. People do not regret the things they did, but rather, the things they did not do. They wish they had taken the risk and gone after their dream job, rather than listen to their parents or take the position that seemed like a safe choice. They wish they had been honest about their feelings toward someone whom they believed could not or would not love them. They wish they had taken that vacation, even if it meant spending a chunk of their savings. They wish they had been better parents, spent more time with their children when they were small, said yes more often.
Why is it that we seldom regret the things we did? When our days on earth are numbered, we don’t look back and think, I wish I’d never married that woman. I wish I’d never bought that car. I wish I’d never moved to that house….
I think it’s because we are good at finding the lessons in things we did wrong. Every mistake has a silver lining, right? If I hadn’t married that woman, I wouldn’t have two great kids! I might have totaled that car, but I was so lucky to be alive! If I had never bought that house, I wouldn’t have met my best friends!
Regret is a great teacher. Every wrong move holds a life lesson that shapes who we are – who we become. But what are we to do with the things that might have been?
It brings to mind the old adages of tombstones never saying, “Here lies Jim. He should have worked more hours.” Or, “Here lies Mary. Her house sure was clean!” Yet, day in and day out, these are the decisions we often make: Sometimes, for good reasons – We have bills to pay, a family to raise. But, when we reach the end of our days, we see things differently. Time becomes a much more flexible and valuable commodity. Money – not so much.
Think about your life from a different perspective – Try to imagine that you are nearing the end. If you had it to do over, what would you do differently? What missed opportunities make you say, “I wish…” and, more importantly, what are you going to do about it?
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