There are many people who have written or spoke on the topic of regret. In reading a few articles, there were social workers, hospice nurses, or people who are around individuals in the final days of their lives. There seem to be common themes around regret.
If you talk to people with not a lot of time left, they will often use the phrase “I wish I had….” In order for us to learn how to avoid regret, it really does make sense to understand what people say when they are in the old age.
Gary Vaynerchuck, the marketing and business expert I follow, has a few videos about regret. He says the same thing. If you want to get motivated and learn what not to do, go visit a nursing home and talk to 80 and 90-year-olds. They will tell you what they wish they would have done differently.
When we are young, we are so occupied with day to day, we often don’t look at the big picture. The reality is that it’s hard to do. At least I can admit that for myself. One of the reasons I created this podcast was to remind myself of the big picture. What are the most important things?
Let’s take a look at 7 of the major regrets that older people talk about:
1) I wish I had not spent so much time working. My mother used to say, “nobody on their deathbed ever said, “I should have spent more time at the office”. Yes, we often feel trapped. We feel we have to work in order to support the family.
2) I wish I had been more loving to the people who matter the most. This may be our spouse, our parents, our children, or even our friends. In the end, it’s the relationships that are part of our happiness. It’s been proven that relationships are a big part of being happy later in life.
3) I wish I had lived my own life rather than how society (or someone else) thought I should live This covers so many areas. From where to go to college or get a job because of parents, to someone being closeted about their sexuality. To me, this is about being “true” to yourself. This is certainly not an easy one.
4) I wish I had taken better care of myself I don’t know the science on this, but I do know that healthy people can die young and unhealthy people can live for a long time. My thought on this is that yes exercise and eating well absolutely can attribute to the quality of life. However, I think the number 1 factor besides genetics is someone’s attitude about stress. Stress is the most powerful negative effect on people but it’s not the stress itself, it’s the attitude toward the stress. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal has an awesome Ted talk called “How to Make Stress your Friend”.
5) I wish I had taken more risks This can be in love, work, play, or many things. Fear holds us back from taking risks. Some of it is simply risky in our heads, while other things are actually physically risky…jumping out of a plane, or swimming with sharks. Or it might be that girl you wished you asked out on a date when you were single but you feared rejection. Or the business you didn’t start because you feared failure. This is a big one.
6) I wish I discovered my purpose earlier in life When you find your purpose, it’s pretty amazing how that feels. The reality is that your purpose can also change. I’ve always enjoyed my work, but it wasn’t until I started my meetup and began working with dads that I realized this is my true purpose. I wasn’t put on this earth to sit behind a computer and phone for 12 hours a day. Your purpose may be simple or it may be complicated, but if you can find it, you are lucky. Of course, you then have to do something about it.
7) I wish I had helped, inspired, or touched more people. There is definitely some amazing intrinsic value to helping people. The high that I get from doing this podcast and helping dads is like nothing else. While I was not lucky to lose my mother a few years ago, it was the event that ultimately changed the path of my life.
Big events can often force you to look at things differently. They can force you to re-evaluate your life and figure out what is important to you. We all have regrets, it’s a question of can they be small ones that don’t ultimately impact your life in a big way. It’s much easier to have perspective when you are in the final days of your life and able to look back and evaluate it. The difficult part if taking control now and using what other people regret to shape your life in a way that allows you to live without regrets.