As my 37th birthday approaches, it seems natural to look over my life so far and wonder about what the future holds for me.
I don’t know the answer to the latter, but I am certain that I don’t want to be one of those people who looks back at my life full of regret.
That isn’t to say that I don’t have any regrets.
However, the vast majority of them are not things that I am going to obsess about on my deathbed nor are any of them so bad that they cannot be forgiven by either myself or others.
While life is complex and there are no set rules as to how to live it, I nonetheless have three principles I rely on to hopefully avoid ending up with a life full of regret. Here they are in no particular order:
1. Ask: Will I regret this more if I don’t do it than if I do.
An elderly man once confided in me that he regretted the things that he didn’t do a lot more than the things that he did.
This always took me aback at first. However, as I have gotten older, I have come to understand what he meant.
For many of us, the desire to be safe and secure trumps all else. Many of us rationalize staying in jobs and relationships that we do not like and are not particularly fulfilling because they seem safe. (As my late grandmother used to say, “Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.) While there is something to be said for safety and stability there is also something to be said for stepping out of our comfort zones and taking a chance. While it may not result in happiness, at least you won’t sit around wondering, “What if?”
Plus, much of the safety and security we think have is often an illusion.
As the writer Joan Didion put it: “Life changes fast. Life changes in the instance.” This leads me directly to #2.
2. Remember: No one can predict the future.
We’ve all heard that hindsight is always 20/20. It’s true. And while sometimes we tend to ignore obvious signs about certain people and situations, the fact is that many times things happen that we never could have predicted.
For example, when I was in my early 20s, I became involved with a “dream man” who later turned out to be a nightmare. For a long time I blamed myself for ever getting involved with such a person in the first place but as several friends and family members pointed out, he had managed to fool quite a few people. No one could have predicted the drama that was to follow.
While part of me wanted to forget ever becoming involved from him, the truth is I learned quite a few valuable life lessons and even managed to impress myself with how I handled the fallout. Looking back, I don’t regret it.
The lesson here is that even the worst experience can have a silver lining. If we manage to walk away even just a bit wiser and stronger, then it’s never a total loss.
3. Forgive: Both myself and others.
Forgiveness is a powerful thing. Despite what many think, forgiveness is not the same as absolving someone of their past behavior. Rather, it’s about accepting what has happened and moving on. As I wrote in a previous post, forgiveness does not mean we have to welcome certain people back into our lives if we don’t want there.
Generally speaking, it’s been much easier for me to forgive others than myself especially if my actions ended up hurting others. However, self-flagellation only goes so far and try as we may, no amount of self-punishment can change the past.
Forgiveness can be a live-saver and sometimes the life we save may end being our own.
In closing, very few of us go through life without a single regret. However, there is a big difference between having some regrets versus being full of them. Usually, the former means that we lived to the fullest while the latter can indicate that we did not or at least not as much as we wished.
In any case, I am hoping to fall into the former category. Even if I don’t, then at the very least I can say I tried my best to get there and won’t regret trying.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: pasotraspaso Flickr