What’s In The Rearview

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. –Chinese Proverb

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That bully you didn’t stand up to.

The person you were too afraid to ask for a date.

The school plays you missed.

The stock you didn’t invest in.

The business opportunity you didn’t take.

The list could go on, probably forever. All of us have regrets. We can all look into our past at the fear that held us back or the times we took the easy way out. Those decisions can haunt us.

Most of us have said the words, “I’m going to regret this in the morning!” Too much to drink or not going to bed on time are not the wisest decisions, but after a brief regret when the alarm goes off, we’re back to our normal life. Most of us, however, have probably not said, “I’m going to regret this on my deathbed” nearly enough.

You may have heard of the book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying” by Bronnie Ware, a nurse from Australia. As she cared for people in their final stages of life, she had the chance to ask them about their greatest regrets in life. The answers she heard, I think, resonate with all of us:

I wish I had let myself be happier

“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to themselves,  they were content when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends

“Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years.”

I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings

“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard

“This came from every male patient I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Some women also spoke of this regret, but all of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me

“This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”

Yeah, that’s me!

I see myself in every one of those five regrets. Plus I have a few more I can throw in on top of those for good measure. We all can. The problem with regrets is that we often don’t recognize those actions until it’s too late. We just get caught up in life, we don’t even think about the long-term impact of our daily lifestyle and decisions.

At least not until now. We can start being intentional about our lives and make sure we minimize those regrets when we get to the finish line. You can’t do anything about the mistakes you’ve made, but you can start today to redeem them with better decisions, decisions that are true to the person you want to be.

One of my guiding principles in life came from my dad. He always told me the stories of his regrets, chances he didn’t take. He warned me to not let my life get to it’s end with dreams unrealized or chances not taken. I decided a long time ago I’d rather end my life with a thousand failures that one regret.

I’m sure we’ll all die with regrets. There is no avoiding it because we are all human. None of us will have perfect lives or spotless records. There will be glitches and hitches, blots and spots. But it’s never too late to start being intentional about how we live our lives.

The only thing worse than not starting 20 years ago is not starting now.

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