Saturday, November 23, 2013

Five Great Regrets

Sometimes inspiration just jumps up and smacks you in the face, like this morning. I've been working on ideas for posts on "Conspicuous Consumption," "To Be Free or Not To Be Free," "Extravagant Frugality" and "Positivism vs. Negativism." Yes! I often am working on more than one idea at a time for posts. This morning as I was glancing over my email on my smartphone before jumping out of the sack (I get a lot of reading done very early this way), I noted a post on one of the Vandwelling forums I'm active on from my, yet to meet in-person, friend, VWRob. Rob travels these United States in his version of a van. Well, from what I can gather, it's actually a motorhome, but vandwelling is as much about philosophy and attitude as it is about the kind of vehicle one chooses to enjoy the lifestyle with. Rob is also a Living Free reader and offers excellent thoughts to me from time to time.

This morning, he included a link to a Facebook post from a nurse who has spent part of her recent career (and may still be) caring for those individuals facing the end of life, typically within a relatively short period of time, like weeks. Here's the direct link if you're interested in looking at it yourself: Thanks for the inspiration, Rob.


The dictionary says that a regret is a feeling of sadness or disappointment about something that you did or did not do. Now, I don't think I've actually every met someone who hasn't expressed some kind of regrets at one time or another. We all do things we regret doing after the fact or have missed opportunities to do one or more things and we live to regret it. So, it's not like any of us are unfamiliar with the word, the manifestation or the feeling of regret.

But, why do we have these regrets? It's because everything we do in life is about choices. The only things we have no choice over are the involuntary functions of our mind and body. Everything else, even as simple as getting out of bed (or not) when we wake up, whether we will eat and what we will eat, to when and if we'll go to bed at the end of the day is a choice. It's likely we'll experience one or (most likely) more regrets everyday. We ordered the hamburger, but when you smelled the chicken sandwich someone near you was eating, you regretted not getting the chicken sandwich. That's a pretty simple example. But, it could be that you never made your true feelings known to that gal or guy you went to the college or high school prom with and you later realized that you missed the person you should have been spending your life with. Or, you studied in college or vocational or technical school and after completing your studies and receiving your degree or certification, you realized that what you spent the time learning is not what you really want to do with your life. The list of regrets can go on forever.

Here's the reality, some regrets are benign and will be forgotten quickly as a new day begins. Others are more important and may be with you for a lifetime. The regrets expressed by the dying patients to the nurse from this article are probably the worst kind. They are the regrets that you will go to your grave with and no longer have the opportunity to change the course of your life to alleviate the sting of these regrets. I'm calling them Five Great Regrets. It was these regrets, though I hadn't actually articulated them or even realized they were motivating forces, that were the major reasons I made the dramatic and, to some people, drastic change in my life and lifestyle in 2008. Five years earlier I dealt with my own mortality when I dealt with the prostate cancer I was diagnosed with. I took time for myself that year and realized that life wasn't as serious as I had been making it all my life. I was committed and driven. I, subconsciously, believed that I was going to change the world through my entrepreneurial endeavors. The bottom line finally began to hit home. A very tiny, fraction of a fraction of the people who have, do and will walk on this planet will make those Earth changing contributions. If I were destined to be one of them, then something should have already have manifest itself. Now, that's not to say that I may still make an Earth changing contribution between now and the time I take my last breath. I'm a firm believer in saying, "never say never." But, now I'm focused on not having to face these Five Great Regrets (or at least all of them) when it's my time to go.

So here they are as reported by the nurse, Sina Anvari

Five Great Regrets

#1. Wishing one had the courage to live a life true to himself or herself instead of living the life others expected of them.

This seems to be the biggest regret of all those reported. I've quoted Shakespeare several times in this blog, specifically from Hamlet, "To thine own self be true . . ." What amazes me, as I think about this, is that this is not a new discovery or some modern revelation. Shakespeare was speaking about this some 500 years ago. And, if you search back, you'll find references going back to the ancient Greek, Roman and Chinese philosophers among others.

The biggest part of this regret was that most people die having not lived out even half of their dreams. I dare say that a large percentage of those lived out only a very small number of their dreams. Instead, they lived up to the expectation of others including parents, siblings, spouses and, yes, even offspring. I always refer to all those who know what's right for you as the "Committee of They." They know better. They may not know your dreams, but even if they do know them, they will make sure you know that your dreams are impractical or unrealistic.

The worst part seems to be when the individuals realize that they have this regret because of their own choices. I can completely relate to this because I can recall any number of choices that I've made that actually curtailed my personal dreams. What's even worse is when you do follow your dreams and heart and then feel guilty because others feel you didn't respect their advice or wishes.

#2.  Wishing one hadn't worked so hard.

Wow! This is a real guilt trip. We of the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomer Generation were taught and had it drilled into us that hard work would insure us of success in life - at least, at some level. Think about it. We nominally have a 40-hour workweek. Add roughly an hour for lunch and a couple breaks and between a half hour and an hour a day each way for commuting to and from work. On the five-day workweek schedule, that accounts, nominally, for 60 hours a week. Deduct another 45 hours for rest/sleep and now 105 hours of our week are gone. That leaves approximately 63 hours and 35 of those are the balance of the weekend. So, there are approximately 5.5 hours per day to spend time with the kids and spouse, prepare and eat meals, help with homework and get ready for work in the morning. Of course, the weekend is typically spent taking care of laundry, cleaning the house, fixing the house and car, shopping and other utilitarian things. Viola! There goes another week.

After spending about 40 years of my life in business working 10 to 16 hour days, six and seven days a week, seldom taking any recreational time off, I really understand what this is all about. Now, in my case, I did make a choice to work from my home for all but about ten years of my life. I did that so I could be around for my son and spend time with my wife. Of course, she worked about as hard as I did since we both worked together in our businesses. So, for me, this regret will be a little less than for others.

But, really, were we really blessed with the bounty of this planet and all the beauty it offers and given a finite amount of time, more for some, less for others - just to work most of that time away? I think not. There's something wrong with the picture and this model.

#3. Wishing one had the courage to express one's feelings.

This is another big one. I don't know why we have so much trouble telling each other we love each other - sincerely. Or I guess, if we're being honest and expressing our feelings, we should be able to tell someone that we dislike or despise them, do or don't agree with them, accept or reject their philosophies or whatever it might be. Actually, many people may shorten their lives or endure illnesses of various kinds due to carrying around unresolved resentments and bitterness throughout, what can often end up being, the majority of their lifetimes.

So, instead of carrying that burden, why can't we simply be honest with those we have unresolved issues with? Sure, it is going to change the relationship, most likely, but maybe that's what should be. Either opening doors of honesty can develop new levels of trust, respect and appreciation for one another or, maybe, it will just end a relationship that's been toxic for too long and is poisoning you and shortening your life. It's too late to find out on your deathbed.

#4. Wishing one had stayed in touch with his or her friends.

How often do you find yourself going through old photos or yearbooks or letters or memorabilia and recalling memories of old friends and great times? Well, I'll tell you, now that I'm considered a "senior citizen," I find myself doing this fairly frequently. I might be traveling through a town I haven't been to in decades. Perhaps, as I did recently, one will return home to a hometown that was left behind decades before. As you drive past your own homes and those of your friends from childhood, school, church or other religious institution, college, restaurants, movie theaters, etc., what memories arise? Do you remember the people you hung out with, the guys or gals you dated, the sporting events, movies, church retreats, etc.? Whatever happened to all those people?

Okay, with the Internet and services like Facebook, Google+ and even LinkedIn, to mention a few, you may be able to reconnect with some of these old friends. Perhaps, some were very close friends. Others may have simply been part of the group you hung out with. All these years have gone by. You know what's happened in your life. In most cases, it's been an eventful life you couldn't have imagined when you knew these people. But, what's happened in their lives. I have one friend I was in the Air Force with in San Antonio, Texas. I left Texas for my assignment in Washington, DC. My friend was first assigned to Thailand and then to Korea. We kept in contact by letter for a year or so. Then we went our ways and on with our lives. Interestingly, both of us wondered whatever happened to the other. Then, a quarter century later, with the help of a new thing called the Internet, we reconnected. It turns out we'd only been separated by distances of between 35 to 70 miles all those years. Since we reconnected in 1996 we've been there for each other, helped each other through many life challenges, have traveled around the U.S. and some international places and we just count on each other being there through good times and bad.

I've been reconnecting with many old friends over the past few years. Some were high school, college and graduate school friends. Some worked for me as employees. Some were business partners. The list of connections and friendships from a lifetime is very long. It doesn't take much to do some searching and hopefully locate them through the various Internet services now available. Drop a card in the old snail mail if you can't find an email address, but have a street address. Send an email if they do have an email address. Connect with them on the social networks. Pick up the phone and call them and just chat for a while. Don't wait until it's too late and regret it. One of my high school buddies whose email address I had and had planned to connect one day, died rather suddenly at age 65 a couple months before he planned to retire at 66. I now regret that I never made the effort to contact him.

#5. Wishing one had allowed himself or herself be happier.

This is very common according to the nurse who wrote the article. And, I guess you could say that I've harped on this being happy idea for several years on the blog. As the nurse pointed out and so have I, happiness is a choice we can all make. It's a state of mind, an attitude, if you will. Why do so many people wait so long to realize this and then regret they hadn't spent most of their lives happy? Why do we feel we must be like Job from the book of Job in the Bible? Why do we feel like we have to carry the burdens of the world on our shoulders? If our brother or sister or adult children or living, aged parents or close friends or professional co-workers or employees or employers are unhappy, why do we feel we have to carry all, part or any of their burden? Lots of questions here, but this is what so many of us do, I dare say, for at least part of our lifetime, if not most of it.

Believe me when I tell you, you and I cannot, let me add emphasis to that - CANNOT - make anyone else happy. Everyone has their own lot in life and their own burdens to bear. Money doesn't solve it. Taking the responsibility for someone else's actions does not solve it. We can try our hardest to show others the answers, solutions, alternate routes or whatever to their ultimate happiness, but if the individual chooses to remain in their own situation, muck and mire, you and I will not make them happy. And, certainly, by us putting on our own sack cloth and ashes and being miserable (as the saying goes, misery loves company) we don't do anything to change their attitude or state of mind, we're simply making twice as many people miserable and unhappy.

Interestingly, some of the happiest people are those with the least amount of money and material possessions. Once they accept what they actually have and choose to be happy about what they do have, they change their attitude and state of mind. On the other hand, those who have very large amounts of money, even fortunes and material possessions, often are some of the unhappiest people because they have all kinds of concerns and worries about what they have, keeping it and getting more. I still don't get people who use drugs, alcohol, shopping, eating, gambling and other addictions to numb their unhappy state. None of these things will provide happiness, only misery down the road. And, I'm sorry. I refuse to consider any of these things "diseases." You don't get an alcohol or drug or gambling - name your addiction - bacteria or virus. You make a conscious choice to partake in this dangerous game. Few win, many lose, many hurt or destroy other lives and then they want society to fix them because they are "sick." Wrong and I don't care what the AMA or American Psychological Association says.

BE HAPPY - NOW! Don't wait until you're lying there thinking of all the things you allowed to pass you by and regret it now. Simply make a decision to be happy. Think happy thoughts. Stop watching the news. Stop listening to all the political claptrap. Don't take life or yourself seriously. Don't bear your employer's burdens - if you choose to work for someone else (yes, it's another choice), do it joyfully and do the best job you can, but don't take on the employer's responsibility. That's his or her choice. Life is way, way too short (and some have it cut off very prematurely) to not be happy most of the time. It's an attitude, a state of mind and YOUR CHOICE!

So, there you have it. My take on Five Great Regrets. Everyone will have some regrets when they die. There are some things that it's just too late to do anything about, even now. And, please, if you haven't realized it, understand that virtually everyone dies with "unfinished business." But, why not make your death bed regrets small ones and work on eliminating these Five Great Regrets now while you still have, hopefully, plenty of time. 


Richard Rosen said...

Fine view of those things which people would like to do over. A great ending to do what you can to undo (or at least minimize) those things you regret. I find that whether of not successful or doable, the thought, effort and will to make restitution causes you to grow. Restore the ancient landmarks: do that which is right according to your highest perception of that which is true, good and beautiful. And so shall not only those who receive your nobility of gesture be blessed, but so will your soul.

I vividly recall this example of making restitution from my bible teacher years ago. When he first discovered God existed in his youth and knew he needed a bible to learn of him. He was very poor so he checked out one from the library. He read it daily and fell in love with its truths. And he never returned it.

Many years later, God spoke to him in this way: “Jay, is there anything you’ve done that you shouldn’t have and for which you haven’t made restitution?” He didn’t think so, but it caused him to think through his life, which is when he recalled the stolen library book.

He said to God, “I’ll return it, but the fines will be enormous after all these years. Nevertheless, it’s the right thing to do, so I will.” He brought the well worn and marked up book to the librarian and told her he never returned it, had “stolen” it, and wanted to make right. “How much will the fines cost?”

The librarian, as you can imagine, had never encountered such a situation. His earnest desire to make restitution touched her heart. She said to him, “I see that this book has changed your life. Oh, that others would have such a tender conscience. The fine is forgiven and you may keep “your” bible. You have encouraged my faith in people.”

Ed Helvey - Professional Nomad said...

Thanks for your comment, Richard. It really helps make the points more vivid. The "stolen Bible" story is so relevant and reminds me of a number of other similar stories that others have told me over the years as well as some of my own personal experiences. So much life to live and so little time to live it. Spending it creating things to regret is just ridiculously counter productive.